China’s ‘Princess of Wahaha’ to lead beverage empire fighting for relevance

For about two decades, Kelly Zong Fuli operated in the shadows of her father, beverage tycoon Zong Qinghou — once China’s richest man. His death last month is now thrusting the woman known as the “Princess of Wahaha” into the spotlight.

It won’t be easy for the 42-year-old heiress, who’s poised to take over an empire fighting for relevance. Sales at the family’s Hangzhou Wahaha Group have fallen in an increasingly competitive market, and another beverage tycoon has become China’s wealthiest person: Nongfu Spring Co.’s Zhong Shanshan.

“She is facing different difficulties ahead,” said Suheng Wu, business analyst at Daxue Consulting in Shanghai. “Consumer demand is changing, and the market competition is intensifying with new domestic and international brands emerging.”

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