Scandal breeds false hope in domestic dairy brands

Source:Global Times Published: 2013-8-6 22:38:01

New Zealand's Fonterra, the world's largest exporter of dairy products, said Monday that it would recall and control all of its potentially contaminated products on the Chinese mainland in the next 48 hours, a remedial move after the company announced Friday that some of its whey protein concentrate was contaminated with botulism-causing bacteria.

Although Fonterra was the first to reveal the contamination issue to the public, it is still hard to tell whether its actions will ease the anger and anxiety of Chinese consumers, especially considering the company first discovered the possible contamination in March and did not publicize it until several months later. But to be sure the food safety issue has not only struck a heavy blow to the company's brand image in China, but also shaken Chinese consumer confidence in foreign milk powder in general.

In recent years, imported milk powder producers have gained an overwhelming advantage over their domestic counterparts in the Chinese market, which of course has much to do with their high quality and positive brand impression with local consumers. But this advantage has magnified the actual quality gap between imported and domestic dairy products in the minds of many local consumers. With foreign dairy brands now showing that they are not infallible, it's not surprising to see their glory starting to fade.

No doubt several of China's discredited dairy brands are hoping that Fonterra's recent troubles will remind shoppers that food safety problems can happen anywhere. They are also probably thinking that this case will create new opportunities for the domestic dairy sector.

It bears pointing out that Chinese consumers are not obliged to give special attention or consideration to locally made milk powders and related products. Ultimately, quality is the only thing that matters in the competition between domestic dairy businesses and their foreign rivals. Big players in China's industry should know by now that they can't count on patriotism to solve their current problems.

But at the same time, it's also abnormal to see Chinese consumers holding such sharp attitudes toward milk products - foreign brands are still afforded far more trust than local brands. After years of improvements and accumulation of industrial resources, Chinese dairy now has a chance to rebuild its image. But, just as before this latest tainted whey scandal broke, domestic producers need to take real actions which show their commitment to quality and safety if they want to win back the market's trust and respect.

Finally, rational and realistic consumer attitudes are also necessary to promote healthy competition between imported and domestic dairy products.

Fonterra will not collapse simply because of this contamination incident. Its eventual recovery and comeback with Chinese consumers is almost assured. The same should be true for Chinese brands that have met with food safety issues of their own.

The article was compiled based on an editorial from the Global Times Chinese.

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