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2022-07-21 09:40:01

China’s market regulators want the country’s “ice cream assassins” dead.

Local regulators across the country have been cracking down on stores hiding ice cream prices amid an uproar over rising costs for the humble summer treat. Multiple brick-and-mortar shops in the northern city of Tianjin, as well as those in Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces, have been fined up to 200 yuan ($15) for hiding prices.

“Ice cream assassins” has become one of the most popular online buzzwords over the past weeks, with consumers slamming costly ice creams from unknown brands. Many have complained they were shocked to pay five times as much for what appeared like their regular go-to ice creams, and were too embarrassed to put them back in the freezer after going to the counter.

“When I’m about to pay but find out the ice cream will cost more than I had expected, I would feel a bit ashamed to return it,” Li Xiao, a Beijing-based researcher, told Sixth Tone in a phone interview. “So I just bite the bullet and buy it assuming it must taste good.”

The crackdown on ice cream assassins came just weeks after a new regulation “providing clear pricing and prohibiting cheating” came into effect on July 1. Local media reported that police officers have intensified price checks on ice cream since the guideline came into effect.

While ice creams from foreign brands are generally expensive, domestic companies claiming to be “high-end” have been charging consumers more and more over the years. For example, Zhong Xue Gao ice creams, known as Chicecream in English, cost over 20 yuan compared with 5 yuan for other similar brands.

Market analysts say that while the crackdown aims to protect consumer rights, it would be unlikely to result in an emergence of lots of low-priced ice creams. Media reports suggest that ice creams that cost around 2 yuan have almost disappeared from convenience stores in bigger cities.

“Assuming a profit rate of 30%, there is a big difference between the profit of a 10 yuan ice cream and a 30 yuan ice cream,” Zhu Danpeng, a food industry analyst, told domestic media. “For a convenience store with lots of customers, the cost of rent and labor is high. Those stores will naturally tend to choose products with high prices.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Ice creams on sale at a grocery in Wuhan, Hubei province, July 1, 2022. IC)