How Shanghai’s White Rabbit Became a Worldwide Favorite Snack

(CNN) — When ice cream maker Adrienne Borlongan first experimented with white rabbit flavor, she thought it tasted like “cheap vanilla”.

Weeks after he added it to the ever-changing inventory at her Wanderlust Creamery in Los Angeles, customers were just as excited about it as she was.

But when Borlongan posted a photo of an ice cream cone wrapped in White Rabbit paper, word quickly spread on social media. First produced in Shanghai in the 1940s, the candy is known for its iconic red, white and blue packaging and is loved by children across China. And as the Chinese began to emigrate all over the world, their love of white cream candies went with them.

Shortly after Borlongan posted this photo, people were driving to Wanderlust from all over California. And that’s when she realized that she had a phenomenon in her hands.

Since then, White Rabbit has become the mainstay of the Wanderlust ice cream line and is regularly sold in their online store.

But the story of the best-selling ice cream is not only about taste, but also about the Chinese diaspora, the power of nostalgia, and charming, attention-grabbing branding.

Two White Rabbit Horns from Wanderlust Creamery.

Courtesy of Wanderlust Cheese Factory

Made in China

The origin of White Rabbit goes back to a now defunct business called ABC Company, founded in Shanghai in 1943. It was later sold to the state-owned Guan Sheng Yuan Food Group, which still owns it to this day.

The candy wrapper originally featured Mickey Mouse, which was perfect for kids. But as China’s national pride grew and the use of Western imagery became less fashionable, the company rebranded to include a cartoon bunny on the packaging instead.

To come in yes bye. In Chinese: big white rabbit.

The combination of bright, easily noticeable wrappers and sweet milky taste turned out to be a winning one. Children from Beijing to Hong Kong have grown up with these sweets and they have also become a national symbol of the country. historical visit to China in 1972.

The White Rabbit succeeded as a symbol of China that had nothing to do with politics or controversy – a form of culinary diplomacy.

As for taste? The creamy consistency comes from real milk, and there is an edible piece of rice paper between the candy and the wrapper to prevent melting.

Over the years, White Rabbit has tried other flavors, including red beans and peanuts. But most of all, it is the original version that causes nostalgia.

Some North Americans compare the size, texture, and consistency of White Rabbit to Tootsie Rolls.

Some North Americans compare the size, texture, and consistency of White Rabbit to Tootsie Rolls.

CNN/Maggie Hiufu Wong

CNN contacted Guan Sheng Yuan, but the company declined to comment on its product.

However, the popularity of the candy can be easily seen in the enthusiastic market reaction to everything related to White Rabbit.

The White Rabbit brand has built a loyal following among a new generation that has gone beyond its varied flavored candies.

When the company teamed up with a local beauty brand to sell White Rabbit-inspired lip balms online in 2018, the first batch of 920 products sold out in half a minute. Another 10,000 lip balm sets sold out in three hours when sales opened the next day.

New generation

Some of the kids who grew up snacking on White Rabbit candy have now become artists, chefs and entrepreneurs, contributing to the brand.

“I (grew up with White Rabbit). In my childhood, the assortment of candies was not very rich, White Rabbit candies were very popular, even a little extravagant,” says Li Xiang, founder X+ Life and chief designer of the newly opened White Rabbit flagship store in Shanghai.

“It sweetened the childhood of many people.”

Growing up in Harbin in northern China, Li remembers that the “White Rabbit” was closely associated with Chinese holidays – a luxurious gift for children as a special reward. But Lee is most inspired by the brand’s evolving business philosophy.

“As modern business evolves, so does their business philosophy, such as collaborating with other brands, opening pop-up stores, selling merchandise, and opening their first flagship store,” Li says.

The interior of the White Rabbit flagship store.

The interior of the White Rabbit flagship store.

Shao Feng

The brand’s contemporary identity is reflected in the décor of its first permanent flagship store, which also sells White Rabbit-themed merchandise such as hand lotions, clothing and umbrellas.

Located in the new JKS Shanghai Arts and Culture Center, it looks more like a futuristic playground than a candy store.

Encountering a white 3D printed milk-inspired art installation that curves through the 200-square-meter space, visitors experience the bizarre feeling of “falling down a rabbit hole.”

“We hope that when customers enter the premises, they will not only be impressed by the art installations, but will also be able to feel the spirit of the brand,” says Lee.

Controversy and changes

But White Rabbit’s 63-year history hasn’t been exclusively sweet and smooth.

In 2007, a White Rabbit candy recall order was issued in the Philippines and Indonesia when traces of formaldehyde were found in some packaged foods from China, including White Rabbit.

Some foods, such as fruits and milk, naturally contain small amounts of formaldehyde, but consuming large amounts can cause poisoning, leading to symptoms such as headache and vomiting.

However, White Rabbit manufacturer Guan Sheng Yuan suggested that the tests may have used fake candies instead of real ones.

He also hired an international independent testing company to test samples of their candies to prove that no toxic substances had been found before the White Rabbit candy ban was lifted.

The white, wavy interior of Shanghai's White Rabbit store was inspired by candy-covered milk.

The white, wavy interior of Shanghai’s White Rabbit store was inspired by candy-covered milk.

Shao Feng

Addressing a global audience

Through creative collaborations with various brands, the candy has not only regained lost ground, but has become even more popular with a global audience in recent years, with reports claiming that the brand exports its candies to more than 40 countries around the world.

Meanwhile, White Rabbit is regularly cited as an inspiration for food and branded merchandise.

Only Hong Kong has several iterations of White Rabbit treats. Baked Indulgence, a bakery shop run by two sisters, has White rabbit style cookie for sale, and ice cream stand Near the bustling Central Pier, there is the popular White Rabbit flavor.
Fashion store in New York Chop Suey Club sells socks with the White Rabbit logo, and parents can pass on their fandom to the next generation with Wee Bean’s candy print jumpsuit.

Meanwhile, online portals such as Etsy and Society6, where artisans can sell their products directly to consumers, feature dozens of White Rabbit pillowcases, t-shirts and other crafts.

But the company itself does not always look at these things in a positive light. There is often a gray area where companies or designers create products that are inspired by a famous brand but without its endorsement.

In 2021 Bright Dairy and Food Co. The company, which held the official rights to produce White Rabbit dairy products, has filed a lawsuit against two companies in China for creating an unlicensed white rabbit flavored version of milk powder and milk tea. Bright Dairy & Food Co won the case and received a $39,000 settlement.
it’s the same debate around Wanderlust’s White Rabbit ice cream.
Although Guan Sheng Yuan stated that the ice cream shop was not granted the right to sell White Rabbit ice cream under its own brand, it also featured on local news sites that the ice cream shop serves White Rabbit ice cream in a simple cone at the store, in contrast to the photo Borlongan shared online.
As a manager in Bright Dairy and Food Co. said in an interview with local media, “(Seeing that these time-honored Shanghai brands often become popular items abroad, we were inspired to go global faster.”

Borlongan, who grew up in California to Filipino parents, knows the power of food in the Asian diaspora and regularly experiments with her childhood favorite flavors like ube (purple sweet potato).

“I believe there is so much demand right now for something more than just the Eurocentric appeal of fragrances,” she says, referring to tamarind and green tea as fragrances that have gone from “ethnic” to mainstream in the United States over the past decade.

While White Rabbit’s international success was natural, these days the rabbit logo gets as much attention as the real taste of candy.

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