Why are Indonesians panic buying cow’s milk with a bear as the brand’s mascot?

Indonesians panic buying Bear Brand sterilized cow’s milk in Tangerang. Photo: Video screengrab
Indonesians panic buying Bear Brand sterilized cow’s milk in Tangerang. Photo: Video screengrab

A devastating second wave of COVID-19 has led to desperation among many in Indonesia, to the point that this is as good a time as any to tout any random thing to be able to cure or prevent the disease. Even if that thing is a milk product with a perplexing choice for a mascot.

Over the weekend, several videos went viral showing Indonesians panic buying Bear Brand cow’s milk (why the strange choice of mammal? We’re not sure either) by Nestlé. This was likely the result of unverified information going around in recent days saying that Bear Brand’s sterilized milk boosts the drinker’s production of antibodies that could prevent COVID-19 infection.

This is what happened at a wholesaler in Tangerang city recently:


Yep, never mind the improper mask use and direct physical contact from the shuffling, these people couldn’t bear (pun intended) living without this sterilized cow’s milk.

This video represented only one incident in a spike in demand for Bear Brand, with opportunistic resellers now listing one can of the product online at up to IDR50K (US$3.45). Its normal price is around IDR9K (US$0.62).

Cans of Bear Brand sterilized cow's milk by Nestlé. Photo: iStock
Cans of Bear Brand sterilized cow’s milk by Nestlé. Photo: iStock

Even Nestlé said it couldn’t do anything about Bear Brand’s price surge, promising that it will continue to ensure continuous supply of the product into the market to keep its price steady.

In case you’re buying into the Bear Brand hype, do note that the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) has said that the milk can’t directly kill the coronavirus in the body, and that it gives essentially the same nutritional benefits as regular milk.

“Go ahead if you want to drink Bear Brand milk or powdered milk. No one is better than the other, except sweetened condensed milk, which is low on protein,” IDI COVID-19 Task Force head Zubairi Djoerban said today.

“But for complete nutritional benefits it’s better to eat vegetables, fruits, carbs, vitamins, and minerals, so not just milk.”

Good luck telling that to those who aren’t willing to put in the hard work to be healthy, doc.

At any rate, at least it doesn’t seem like Indonesians are turning toward supposed and unproven quick cures like Bear Brand in lieu of proper preventive measures such as getting vaccinated. The country’s vaccination rate is continuing to climb to consistently exceed 1 million jabs per day, even if that means uncontrollable crowds at vaccination venues as well.

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