Supermarket chain ParknShop recalled bottles of Watsons water with motivational slogans on their packaging Saturday, raising questions about whether such wording is seen as too sensitive in Hong Kong’s fraught political climate.
According to Apple Daily’s report Saturday, ParknShop staff received an email ordering without explanation that the bottles be removed from shelves.
The local outlet also posted a screenshot of a WhatsApp message reportedly sent to staff, which asked that the bottles be taken down “immediately,” including in stores in Macau.
The water bottles, part of the beverage company’s new series “Hong Kong is Really Beautiful,” feature taglines including “No matter whether we leave or stay, our roots are here” and “There is a kind of spirit called perseverance” against iconic city backdrops like Victoria Harbor and the Lion Rock.
Local media reported Sunday that many stores were no longer stocking the bottles. Staff at a ParknShop branch and a Fusion outlet in Kwun Tong, also under the supermarket brand, said the bottles were all sold out, according to Stand News.
By Monday morning, Watsons Water’s Facebook page had changed their cover photo from a picture with the “#HongKongisVeryBeautiful” hashtag to an image of two other bottles in the series, one without a plastic label and one made of aluminum packaging. The series is meant to advocate an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Earlier, Watsons Water wrote in response to a Facebook user’s comment that the removal is related to the company’s marketing.
“‘Watsons Sleeveless Distilled Water’ and ‘Watsons PATH Aluminum Pack’ have been very popular since their release,” the company wrote, referring to the series’ two other bottles.
It added that ParknShop would prioritize their sales, and denied that the move is related to the quality of any of the products.
The posts from earlier this month promoting the now-recalled bottles still remain on Watsons’ Facebook page.
Online, netizens circulated a photoshopped picture of the bottles—their caps red instead of green, and featuring labels with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, riot police and the national security banner. “#HongKongisReallyUgly,” a parody hashtag on the image reads.
Meme experts have responded to Watson’s bottles being taken off the shelf for reasons unknown with a brand new series called, “Hong Kong is really ugly”. (Via @polymerhk) https://t.co/zxiCIMi54a pic.twitter.com/HDVlG6Ba7g
— K Tse (@ktse852) June 20, 2021
Pro-democracy activist Nathan Law called the bottles’ removal an act of self-censorship.
“From the eyes of the authorities, these [slogans] are linked to the pro-democracy protests and are forbidden words for companies and anyone living in Hong Kong,” he wrote.