Restaurants and consumers in South Korea have quickly lost their taste for Tsingtao beer, according to media reports, after a video that appeared to show a brewery worker urinating into a tank at one of the firm’s plants in China went viral.
The clip, which has been viewed tens of millions of times on social media since it appeared last Thursday, shows a man wearing a helmet and blue uniform clambering over the side of a high-walled container and apparently relieving himself over its contents.
Tsingtao, China’s second-biggest brewery and a major exporter, said it has contacted police after learning about the video. “Our company attaches high importance to the relevant video that emerged from Tsingtao Brewery No. 3 on 19 October,” the beermaker said in a statement.
It added: “At present, the batch of malt in question has been completely sealed. The company continues to strengthen its management procedures and ensure product quality.”
Officials in Pingdu, a city in Shandong province where the factory is located, said they had launched an investigation into the incident. Chinese media quoted a Tsingtao source as saying that the worker and the person who shot the video were not directly employed by the brewery.
But the commercial backlash appears to be in full swing.
The JoongAng Daily newspaper in South Korea reported that a number of restaurants, most of which serve Chinese food, had applied for refunds on shipments of Tsingtao, but added that the beer’s South Korean importer had turned down the requests.
“I asked if we could get a refund for the Tsingtao beer we already bought, but [the importer’s representative] said that’s not possible,” the newspaper quoted an employee at a Chinese restaurant in Seoul as saying.
The employee said diners had started requesting beers other than Tsingtao, according to the newspaper.
Chinese social media users leaped to the brewery’s defence.
“I suggest the company takes this man to court and gets him to pay compensation for the damages,” one commenter posed on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo. “Investigate this thoroughly!” another said. “Always stand up for our national champion brands!”
Others tried to make light of the incident. “I’ve always said the beer here is like horse pee. Turns out I was wrong,” one said.
A sustained drop in sales in South Korea would pose a problem for Tsingtao, which had the largest market share of any imported beer in the country in the first half of this year. China is the second-biggest beer importer to South Korea after Japan, according to Statistics Korea.
The JoongAng Daily said not all restaurants were alarmed by the footage, however, quoting the owner of another restaurant in Seoul who said sales of the beer had not been affected over the weekend.
The newspaper said sales of the beer at convenience stores had plummeted. South Korean media said Tsingtao sales at one chain were down by 26.2% from the previous week.
Other convenience store operators said they had also seen significant falls in sales. By contrast, sales of other imported beers, including Budweiser and Stella Artois, had risen by more than a third from a week earlier, South Korean media said.
BK, which imports Tsingtao to South Korea, tried to allay fears among consumers that they could be drinking tainted beer. It said Tsingtao operated separate manufacturing facilities for its domestic and overseas markets, adding that the factory in the video produces beer only for the Chinese market.