Though Coca-Cola is trying to save its brand image in China with a recall of its chlorine-tainted products, the beverage giant's move may backfire as it has aroused further discontent among local costumers.
On Wednesday, the Shanxi branch of Coca-Cola announced a recall of products produced between February 4 to 8, after admitting some of its drinks were made with water containing chlorine mistakenly added during a routine maintenance procedure.
Water containing small amounts of chlorine, and intended for cleaning purposes, flowed into water used for producing drinks during a pipe refitting project on February 3 due to errors in operation, according to the company, which apologized for producing the tainted drinks.
But instead of cooling down public sentiments, the recall only sparked further complaints, with online posts describing it as "arrogant" and "insincere," as the U.S. giant, while announcing the recall, reiterated that the products are safe to consume and pose no harm to human health.
"Why apologize if [the drinks are] harmless?" asked Cui Yongyuan, a noted anchorman on CCTV, in a comment posted on popular microblogging site Tencent Weibo.
"Such incidents could bring double damage to consumers both mentally and physically, which would also impact their views on society and human nature," he said. His post had been forwarded more than 12,000 times on Tencent Weibo by Thursday afternoon.
Actually, Coca-Cola has insisted that chlorine contained in the products was safe, under both Chinese and international standards, but this has failed to convince consumers.
Test result from Shanxi Provincial Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision (SPBQTS) showed that 0.0046 milligrams of chlorine were contained in each liter of the tainted products, a level just below China's national drinking water standard of 0.005 milligrams.
The World Health Organization's Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality also allow chlorine content in most disinfected drinking-water at concentrations of 0.2 to 1 milligrams per liter.
Coca-cola China has previously criticized the media for reporting the water containing chlorine to be disinfection water, when it was actually intended for cleaning bottles. It reaffirmed the point in a statement posted via the company's official account at Sina Weibo, China's most popular Twitter-like site.
"But recalling drinks that they claimed to be safe is like the company slapping itself in the face," a Sina Weibo user going by the name "Liu Yong 0606" wrote on the site.
The beverage giant's bottling plant in Shanxi was asked by the local quality watchdog to suspend production and take corrective action last Saturday, after investigation proved the contamination and found other "problems in production that are not in line with relevant regulations," according to a SPBQTS statement.
The recall itself has also given rise to discontent, as Coca-Cola only promised to exchange the tainted products for new ones instead of offering a full refund, and it has never mentioned any compensation for those who have already drunk the suspect beverages.
Li Jie, a TV producer in Shanxi, said there is no reason there cannot be a refund, and that Chinese consumers should take actions to protect their rights and stay away from Coca-Cola products.
"I liked Coca-Cola and its culture... but you have let us down," said "Homme_Ke" on his Sina Weibo account, in a post adding a wish for the multinational giant to show enough sincerity.
Quality issues have recently become headaches for multinationals in China. U.S. toothpaste producer Crest, for example, faced floods of doubt over the weekend after a Chinese netizen quoted a friend who claimed Crest fluoride toothpaste bought in Shanghai contained no fluoride but industrial waste.
Crest responded to the claim by defending its universal quality standard after the post was tweeted over 30,000 times on Sina Weibo.
The company has also said it is trying to reach the netizen in question for further details while displaying an official report from a national quality test center via its official Sina Weibo account, but many consumers remain suspicious.