4th December 2023 – (Hong Kong) The prices of Meiji products at Market Place grocery store in Sheung Wan experienced a significant reduction last night. The 946ml High-Calcium Skimmed milk was priced at a mere HK$13, while the 236ml High-Calcium Skimmed milk was offered for sale at HK$5. Furthermore, low-fat yoghurt with strawberry was available for a mere HK$5 each. It is worth noting that these price cuts might be attributed to lower demand, but they could also be a response to the recent recall that has impacted Meiji’s reputation.
The discovery of veterinary drug residues in Meiji milk products in Japan led to a large-scale recall, causing concerns for the company’s international standing. Meiji promptly initiated the recall after traces of the antibiotic sulfamonomethoxine were found in their milk during routine inspections in mid-November 2023. Over 40,000 bottles of milk were retrieved, but the implications extend beyond the retrieved bottles, affecting production practices and consumer confidence on a broader scale.
Sulfamonomethoxine, commonly known as SMM, is an antibiotic used in veterinary medicine to treat bacterial infections in livestock. Its usage within 72 hours of milking cows is strictly prohibited due to the potential health risks posed by drug residues in milk. The presence of SMM in marketable milk indicates a significant breach of protocols at Meiji’s facilities.
Although Meiji stated that the levels of antibiotics in the affected products did not pose significant health risks, consumer trust relies on strict adherence to safety standards rather than post hoc justifications. The presence of any unauthorized substances undermines confidence in the entire production process.
Adding to the concern, initial reports revealed that contaminated milk had already been distributed extensively throughout western and central Japan. The breach in protocols was not an isolated incident confined to a particular plant. Meiji’s assurance that Chinese supplies remained unaffected loses credibility when widespread distribution within Japan had already occurred.
The milk recall poses a severe threat to Meiji’s brand equity, considering its longstanding reputation and century-old legacy. Meiji represents traditional dairy production in Japan, known for its quality, safety, and health. This reputation has facilitated Meiji’s expansion into global markets, including significant investments in China.
The recall has sparked heated discussions on social media platforms in both Japan and China, with many users openly questioning Meiji’s integrity and expressing intentions to avoid the brand in the future. Previous food safety scandals in Japan, such as the mislabeling of beef origins at Meat Hope in 2022, have contributed to consumer scepticism.