24 March 2019
A worker at an underground market applies a new expiry date to a box of juice. Photo: CCTV
A worker at an underground market applies a new expiry date to a box of juice. Photo: CCTV

Resurrection Day: New shelf life for expired food

From chocolate bars to baby formula, from local products to imported brands, the expiry and manufacture dates on all the food items at one small store in Beijing are all the same. It’s too much of a coincidence so what’s the deal? 

The answer lies underground — both figuratively and literally. Using hidden cameras, China Central Television filmed a thriving black market in relabeled expired products at a below-ground car park in the capital on the weekend.

The footage showed retailers flocking to the site in search of bargains among the various piles of products. Buyers could either like it or lump it — there was no haggling on the price and no sifting through the offerings to handpick the best items. Business was booming and demand was on the side of this expired-food “titan”.

It’s a simple operation. The operator of the black market sources expired products in bulk from supermarkets and then sticks new expiry labels on the items before reselling them for a gross margin of as much as 600 percent. The products are particularly popular with street hawkers because they can peddle them at one-tenth the list price to the multitudes of customers willing to take the risk of eating food past its use-by date.

When customers quibble about quality, vendors simply brush off the concerns, telling them to put it to the taste test. “Try it. If it tastes bad or strange, just throw it away. What’s the big deal?”

Many successful brands complain about losing business to sub-standard or counterfeit items selling at a fraction of the original price. But illicit products will always be part of the package of doing business in China as long as consumers are willing to take a risk on low-quality offerings.

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EJ Insight writer

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