There isn't anything good to be said about the SARS virus, but for the Japanese probiotic drink, Yakult, the virus has been a boon, particularly in SARS-affected areas of Asia.
Although the company is keen to point out it has in no way promoted Yakult as a SARS remedy, fearful consumers have been gulping it down at a furious rate in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and other parts of Asia. In Hong Kong, sales rose by as much as 500 per cent when the virus first hit before settling at twice normal volumes.
Ingrid Houtkooper, corporate communications manager of Yakult Europe, said Yakult's 48-year presence in Asian markets meant consumers had formed strong associations between the fermented drink and a robust immune system. Gossip took the frenzy to new heights.
"Somehow a rumour began in Hong Kong that drinking Yakult could ward off the SARS virus and—boom!—sales went through the roof in an instant," she said. "But none of it has come from our company, and there is no evidence to suggest Yakult can fight the SARS virus. It reflects the fact that people perceive Yakult to be a healthy drink."
The boom sent Yakult's share price soaring amid renewed interest from Danone, the French food giant that produces Actimel, its principal competitor in many markets. Danone upped its holding from five percent of Yakult Honsha Ltd to 19 per cent, with an open market transaction valued at $330 billion.
In 2002, Yakult sold 15 million bottles in 18 countries at a value of approximately $1.8 billion.