Liubiju: A Nearly 500-year-old Pickle Maker

Liubiju is one of China Time-honored Brands, enjoying a history of nearly 500 years. It was originally created in the 9th year during Emperor Jiajing’s Reign of the Ming Dynasty (1530 A.D.) and was a small store of brothers surnamed Zhao from Linfen of Shanxi Province. Later, it specially dealt with pickle business. It is said that the big horizontal board with golden characters hanging in the Liubiju Store was the inscription of the famous scholar Yansong of the Ming Dynasty.

The name Liubiju was taken from the motto coined by the shop's founder and means "House of Six Musts," referring to prime raw materials, choice ingredients, the best yeast, pure water, proper curing, and flavorful pickles. Today the motto still holds true for the Liubiju Food Company. While following traditional processing methods, the company also stresses quality control and application of new technology. Internal reforms have also been implemented to adjust business and production structures to guarantee continuous growth.

There are two major types of the pickles in Liubiju: the one pickled with salt and the one pickled with sauce. The pickles all have the same color, and the huangjiang paste and tianmiangjiang paste used to pickle food are also made by the store itself. The soybean and wheat for making sauce are the best among its kind, together with strict and standard process, give a strong and fresh taste of Liubiju pickles.

When company leaders went to explore the origins of Liubiju in Shanxi, they found many historic relics of this company and these would be exhibited in a museum dedicated to Liubiju on Qianmen Dajie in Beijing. The company’s jiang heicai (muskmelon salted with saucy paste and salt), jiang baogua (muskmelon and mixed-preserved vegetables with saucy paste and sugar) and dozens of other pickled products became famous as early as during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, and they were even found on royal-family tables.

The pickles in Liubiju have carefully-chosen materials and strict processing procedures. Natural saucing method is adopted and abided by strictly. All materials come from fixed places. For example, soybeans are purchased from Majuqiao of Fengrun County, Hebei Province and Yongle Store of Tongzhou, and the wheat flour are from Laishui County in west Beijing City. Besides, strict operation regulations are developed for the production of pickles to ensure the quality. For instance, to make a can of cucumber pickle, first select six pieces of fresh cucumber (500g) produced in Daxing, Beijing; then, pickle the cucumber in self-made sauce for about ten days to get the final products.

The Beijing Liubiju Food Company Limited is composed of three China Time Honored Brand companies: Liubiju, established in 1530; Tian Yuan Jiang Yuan, 1869; and Gui Xin Zhai, 1736. In 1988 all the sauce and pickle makers in Beijing, including Liubiju, merged to establish the Beijing Pickles Company, later renamed the Liubiju Food Company. Management of the new company didn't flinch before the difficult situation they faced – a large number of small workshops scattered throughout the suburbs, dilapidated premises, broken-down equipment, and aging employees. They knew that economy of scale and a recognizable brand name are necessary to success today, and took bold steps to build a modern, consolidated industry.

The company has also poured a lot of money into renovating its buildings and equipment. A large amount of money was spent on new curing vats, stainless steel and reinforced fiberglass tanks, modern production equipment, and new washing, sterilization, and packing equipment. Funds have also been invested in opening vegetable farms and pre-processing facilities – so far more than 30 have been set up near Beijing and Tianjin, guaranteeing a continuous supply of quality raw materials.

About two decades of painstaking work have paved the way for Liubiju's future growth. Despite a sharp rise in production costs and operating expenses, the company has managed to push annual sales over 100 million yuan. In 2005, Liubiju reported total sales valued at 150 million yuan (US$19.88 million), 20 percent more than in 2004. In 2007, the company reported around 180 million yuan (US$23.86 million) in sales, which indicates that selling pickles, sauces and sauced vegetables is a big and growing business. With nearly 1,000 sales points throughout China, it has become the country's largest company in pickle production, with the most qualified technical staff and advanced production facilities. Its sales network extends to Northeast China, North China, Northwest China and South China. It also exports its products to the United States, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Korea, Japan and various countries in Europe (exports are about 20 percent of the company’s production, a rare achievement in the Chinese agricultural finished goods export market).

Following the current trend of market-orientation, Liubiju accomplished its restructuring reform at the end of 2000. The State-owned firm became stock-holder-owned, including a modern management and operating system. Beginning with its establishment, Liubiju has followed a tradition that shareholders should never operate the company by themselves; instead, they employ competent personnel to manage it. Further, relatives of the company’s shareholders had to look elsewhere for work. With a constant eye to cash flow, the company never over-extended itself financially or incurred debt. To the company’s shareholders and managers fell the task of creating useful systems that would enable their employees to do their work efficiently.

Traditional products enjoy a good reputation in China’s food markets; their customers trust them. Still, Liubiju has never hesitated to improve or expand its product line to suit the ever-changing needs and desires of its customers. This is evident even in its pickles and sauce products that now have less salt, sugar and food coloring, which are healthier and more suited to Liubiju customers.

Traditional methods of production are still used. But its high-quality materials and the quality of the preliminary processing of semi-finished materials are still ensured, and the products also comply with international standards. Stainless-steel containers have replaced wooden vats, and modern processing machines are being used in new, modern plants.

Liubiju has combined age-old tradition and modern science to increase the number of products. Many of them have been given a stamp of quality from municipal governments and state ministries, and have even won international prizes. To reinforce its quality control system, Liubiju was certified as an ISO9000 compliant 2000 and HACCP (Food Safety Quality Management System). These qualifications created a more solid foundation for the development of Liubiju, domestically and internationally. Thanks to the fine management and high quality, Liubiju has been enjoying high reputation for centuries among the general public.