“Bobbie” purple bear by Robert Ravens a big hit in China
How China President Xi Jinping turned Tasmanian toy into a bear essential
President’s purple gift sparks huge demand in China, opening up new markets for businesses
Agence France-Presse in Nabowla
When Chinese President Xi Jinping stepped on to the airport tarmac in Australia’s smallest state Tasmania, he was handed a purple fluffy toy called Bobbie.
Stuffed with lavender and wheat, the teddy bear has since captured the hearts – and wallets – of Chinese consumers.
Bobbie has become an overwhelming success in China with a remarkable following – helping creator Robert Ravens, owner of the lavender farm in the state’s northeast, secure an inaugural Australia-China business award for entrepreneurship.
Tasmania has long had the nation’s weakest economy, but is hoping to boost its fortunes by using its natural resources to attract an affluent Asian market looking for quality products.
When Ravens bought the Bridestowe Lavender Estate in 2007, his first goal was to return it to the peak farming condition it was in several decades ago.
He was also keen to boost the tourism potential of the farm. “We looked to create new products which would attract young visitors, and that came through food,” Ravens said.
An early product, lavender ice cream, started to attract Chinese tourists to the 105-hectare farm, an hour’s drive from Tasmania’s second-largest city Launceston.
But it was through the bear that Ravens, a former chief executive of a leading chemicals firm, struck a winning formula.
“We were experimenting with various shapes and colours. One day, five years ago or more, we showed a bear to a young Chinese girl in a shop,” he said.
“She said ‘so cute’ and she was carrying it like a baby, and you could see the bond form. As soon as we saw that, the light went on and we knew that was the right configuration.”
Even the name was designed to attract Chinese consumers, Ravens said, adding: “You can say Bobbie phonetically in Cantonese and Mandarin.”
Ravens courted the celebrity market and when a Chinese model posted a picture of herself with the bear online last year, demand for the furry creature – which doubles as a heat pack – reached stratospheric levels.
The farm had to limit sales to one per customer, temporarily halt online shopping and even contend with fake toys piggy-backing on Bobbie’s fame.
Visitor numbers have soared from 23,000 in 2007 to more than 65,000 last year, and it now produces 40,000 bears annually.
“In Australia, you become successful and you have 26 million potential customers. In China, you have a billion. The scale is so phenomenal,” said Ravens. “The answer is to be authentic and to target the market as acutely as you can. We are aiming always to be a boutique market, not a mass market.”
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as How Xi turned the humble Bobbie into a bear essential
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 January, 2015, 3:36am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 January, 2015, 3:36am
I’m glad I’m so popular at least by name haha.
Says “Lobert Chai” (my Cantonese nickname)