Although China’s infamous melamine dairy scandal happened 12-years ago, the wounds are still raw for many Chinese consumers who China Skinny speaks to.
The scandal bankrupted domestic brands such as Sanlu, but other local brands are now stronger than ever, particularly the market ‘duopoly’ of Yili and Mengniu, who both sit among the world’s ten largest dairy brands.
On 9 July 2020, a WeChat post by Wang Xiaoqi (pen name) translating to “Disclosing the Six Sins of Mengniu and Yili, Since the Media Dares Not to Say, I Am” sought to expose the truth behind China’s dairy giants’ ascent to conquer the Chinese market. The article claimed that Yili and Mengniu achieved their dominance by manipulating industry standards and silencing opponents with state power.
Although the original WeChat article was swiftly deleted by force, screenshots of the article went viral on social media, before being deleted too. Wang was abruptly arrested, but was released the following day.
WeChat searches for Yili normally sit at around 0.9 million a day, but peaked at 21 million on 20 July. Similarly, Mengniu’s typical 1.5 million daily searches soared to 15 million on 12 July as concerned consumers tried to locate the deleted posts and find out more. Baidu also saw triple-digit surges for Yili and Mengniu-related searches in the weeks that followed.
In the article, the Wang outlined the Six Sins of Yili and Mengniu that he said had manipulated authorities and done evil to consumers:
1. Average UHT milk quality is getting worse and tastes increasingly watery;
2. Between 2005 to 2008, Yili and Mengniu and successfully lobbied the authorities to ban the word “fresh” from milk packaging, preventing consumers from distinguishing between fresh milk and long-life UHT. ‘Fresh milk’ became labelled as ‘pasteurised’ milk which saw its share tank versus UHT;
3. Mengniu and Yili prioritised production speed over quality in 2008 and, much like Sanlu, treated their raw milk with additives such as hydrogen peroxide / melamine, whey powder and penicillin, although they didn’t take the fall like Sanlu;
4. Mengniu and Yili utilized the melamine scandal to lower their dairy products’ quality standard. Their protein has decreased from 2.95g to 2.8g per 100mg now, while the bacteria limits increased from 100,000 to 1 million;
5. Both companies treat dairy farmers unfairly;
6. Whistleblowers have been persecuted, with at least seven people having been arrested for criticizing Yili to date.
Within 30 minutes of the post going live, Yili had engaged KOLs and PR to quash the post’s claims. Mengniu did the same the next day. Even the China Diary Industrial Association released statements, claiming everything in the WeChat post was fake. Rather than convincing consumers, it reinforced the influence that the giants have in the industry, with the most popular comment in the article translating to “I didn’t believe the post until you posted this claim”. Independent KOLs also fact-checked the claims and confirmed them to be true.
The expose will only strengthen the appeal of imported dairy products in China – something that China Skinny will continue to monitor the real impact through our Dairy Tracker. Stay tuned.