2022-07-21 08:49:25

A bakery chain that has operated in Shanghai for nearly 30 years is struggling to stay afloat as businesses continue to face the economic impact unleashed by the city’s two-month COVID-19 lockdown.

Christine stores in Shanghai have remained shut since the citywide lockdown on April 1, with some customers complaining they were also unable to redeem their prepaid vouchers, domestic media reported Wednesday. Review platform Dianping showed that over 150 stores in the city have “suspended operations,” while the chain’s online operations were halted since March 18 due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Christine was founded in 1993 and has since become a ubiquitous name in Shanghai’s bakery scene, also expanding into neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. Sixth Tone’s calls to the company’s headquarters in Shanghai and a dozen local stores either went unanswered or failed to get through Thursday.

The chain’s woes highlight the hardships faced by local businesses in the aftermath of the lockdown. Many small and medium-sized businesses, including those in the service sector, are struggling to bounce back, despite the local government’s policies to offer easier access to financing and rental subsidies.

But some firms, including Hong Kong-listed Christine International Holdings, the bakery chain’s parent company, were in a poor financial state even before the pandemic started. Christine International Holding’s annual financial reports show it has incurred losses since 2013, with the pandemic only making the losses worse last year.

“The continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 dealt a heavy blow to various industries, especially the consumer sector, as consumer confidence weakened,” said the latest annual report released in April. “Revenue for the year was still down due to a sluggish macro consumer environment.”

While the company partly attributes its losses to waning consumer spending, consumers blame the company for not keeping up with the times. On microblogging platform Weibo, users said Christine lacked innovation in its product design and failed to keep up with consumers’ increasingly diversified preferences in recent years.

“Its products don’t have much that appeals to me,” a Shanghai resident surnamed Niu told Sixth Tone.

Niu said she only visited the store to buy baked goods using prepaid cards given by her employer. She said she would not return to the store once the cards ran out of credit.

Shanghai regulators that monitor the use of prepaid cards have downgraded the company’s credit rating to its second-lowest level, warning consumers of the risks of failing to make payments through such cards at Christine.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A Christine store in Shanghai, July 20, 2022. IC)