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How the Fukushima Nuclear Wastewater Incident is Disrupting the Chinese Catering and Daily Chemical Industries

August 24 eventually transformed into a calamitous day for the marine ecosystem.

Persisting without any reversal, Japan unabatedly discharged nuclear-contaminated water (unconventional coolant from nuclear power plants) into the Pacific Ocean. Visual evidence captured by the media demonstrates that the Fukushima’s nuclear effluence has directly imbued the ocean with a light crimson hue.

This environmental catastrophe has evoked diverse reactions within the Chinese social sphere. Moral condemnation, jests, and apprehension abound. Experts from various fields meticulously analyze the ramifications of nuclear radiation on the lives of ordinary individuals. Offline, numerous people are already engaged in an arduous pursuit of salt and engaging in fierce competition. At this juncture, the development trajectory of certain industries will experience a profound transformation. The lives of numerous catering and daily chemical enterprises will henceforth be altered.

01

The first sector to encounter the “radiation” of the catering industry

The video depicting the frenzied acquisition of salt on Douyin prompted me to contemplate the wave of salt hoarding that ensued in China after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in 2012. During that era, when social media had not yet attained its present prominence, the shelves of numerous supermarkets were swiftly depleted of salt, and even soy sauce became a highly coveted commodity.

A decade has passed, yet discussions surrounding nuclear radiation and salt hoarding persist. At the onset of this week, salt scarcity in Korean supermarkets reoccurred in China. On August 24, searches for the keyword “salt” on JD Supermarket increased by an astounding 377% compared to the previous month, while the turnover of edible salt skyrocketed by 498% month-on-month. Hema platforms in Beijing and Shanghai reported various salt products as “out of stock” and “awaiting restocking.” Even lesser-known condiment companies have commenced live streaming to promote their products.

Incidentally, there are still individuals attempting to acquire iodized salt. However, according to certain medical professionals, iodized salt contains a minuscule amount of iodine. To achieve the desired anti-radiation effect, one would need to consume eight catties of iodized salt per day. Hence, the pursuit of iodized salt is evidently unwarranted and devoid of significance.

The panic-induced salt consumption is undeniably temporary. After all, the supply of salt remains abundantly available. However, the long-term repercussions will be felt within the seafood sector of the catering industry. Today’s Weibo hot search, “#中国日料店will close down in large numbers” has sparked discussions among 100,000 netizens. A Japanese restaurant in Shanghai was captured on social media with a queue forming outside. Many diners exhibit apprehension when consuming Japanese seafood, opting for smaller portions. However, as early as mid-July, numerous Japanese grocery stores in Beijing reported a staggering 90% decline in customer consumption following Japan’s announcement of its plans to discharge and treat nuclear wastewater. Some store owners even expressed intentions to change their future careers.

The amalgamation of food safety concerns and the amplification of social media have exacerbated emotional consumption. As far as the Japanese food industry is concerned, high-end Japanese restaurants have borne the brunt of the impact. Many establishments specializing in high-end dining command per capita expenditures exceeding 1,000 yuan, emphasizing the importation of ingredients from Japan via air transport. Although the utilization of Japanese ingredients was previously associated with sophistication, the marketing rationale behind high-end Japanese restaurants has been rendered obsolete in the aftermath of the nuclear sewage incident. In Beijing, certain sashimi-focused establishments have resorted to indicating that their salmon originates from Russia.

Presently, relevant authorities have officially imposed a complete ban on Japanese seafood. For domestic enterprises, replacing the supply chain will inevitably require time. A group of listed companies, represented by Guolian Fisheries, have experienced a surge in the stock market due to the ban on Japanese seafood.

Moreover, the burgeoning trend of pre-packaged aquatic vegetables will also endure significant visual setbacks. Numerous seafood items that previously enjoyed popularity are anticipated to be severely affected. In 2022, China’s pre-packaged aquatic vegetable market reached a scale of hundreds of billions. Initial projections estimated the market’s size to exceed 250 billion, accounting for over 25% of the entire pre-packaged vegetable market by 2026. However, with regards to future capital investments and industry development estimations, the impact cannot be overlooked.

The fear surrounding radiation is bound to fundamentally alter the stereotypical perception of seafood among the Chinese populace. Labels closely associated with seafood, such as freshness and nourishment, will be ruthlessly discarded. The entire Japanese cuisine, imported food, and seafood industries will inevitably encounter a period of decline. The global dissemination of nuclear sewage leaves the future impact on aquatic products worldwide uncertain. In the future of seafood consumption, the provision of quarantine inspection certificates for each raw material may become a new benchmark for ensuring freshness.

02

“Fairy-like” elixir

Concerns among Chinese consumers regarding the Japanese daily chemical industry have beenelevated significantly in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear wastewater incident. Social media platforms are abuzz with discussions and debates regarding the safety of Japanese-made daily chemical products and cosmetics. Hashtags such as “#日本护肤品危险” (Danger of Japanese skincare products) and “#日本化妆品成分解析” (Analysis of ingredients in Japanese cosmetics) are trending on Weibo, attracting the attention of millions of users.

The fear of radiation contamination has led to a growing sentiment of distrust towards Japanese daily chemical products. Many consumers are questioning the safety and reliability of these products, especially those that contain ingredients sourced from Japan. This has prompted a surge in demand for alternative products from other countries, as well as a renewed interest in domestic Chinese brands.

Some consumers have taken matters into their own hands, conducting detailed ingredient analysis and sharing their findings online. They scrutinize product labels and research the origin of each ingredient, paying particular attention to those sourced from Japan. This heightened scrutiny has created a sense of unease among consumers, even for products that have not been directly affected by the Fukushima incident.

The impact on the Japanese daily chemical industry is expected to be significant. Japanese skincare and cosmetic brands have enjoyed a strong presence in the Chinese market, with many consumers valuing their quality and efficacy. However, the radiation concerns have eroded consumer trust and loyalty. Chinese consumers are now actively seeking alternatives and exploring new brands that offer similar benefits without the perceived risk.

In response to the growing apprehension, some Japanese brands have taken steps to address consumer concerns. They have emphasized their commitment to quality control and safety standards, highlighting rigorous testing procedures and certifications. However, it remains to be seen whether these efforts will be sufficient to regain consumer confidence and restore sales.

Conversely, domestic Chinese daily chemical brands have witnessed a surge in popularity. Consumers are gravitating towards these brands, perceiving them as safer and more trustworthy. Chinese brands that emphasize natural and organic ingredients, as well as those with a strong focus on product safety and transparency, are particularly benefiting from the shift in consumer sentiment.

The long-term impact on the Japanese daily chemical industry in China will depend on various factors, including how the radiation situation develops, the effectiveness of brand communication and rebuilding trust, and the ability of domestic brands to capitalize on the opportunity. It is clear, however, that the Fukushima incident has significantly disrupted the dynamics of the daily chemical industry in China, leading to a reevaluation of consumer preferences and choices.

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