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China's salt hoarders spice up the news

March 23, 2011 | 10:27 am

China-Salt

We've all heard the question at least once: "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you too?" Well, in China, the answer is apparently a resounding "Yes!" -- at least when it comes to hoarding salt.

It seems that many Chinese -– at least those initially fearful of radiation threats from Japan's damaged nuclear reactors -– recently bought large quantities of salt, The Times reported Monday.

Chinese shoppers stripped store grocery shelves bare while the crisis unfolded at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Some were acting on the mistaken belief that iodized salt could protect them from the effects of radiation. Others feared that China's coastal sea-salt deposits would be contaminated by the crippled plant.

And then came the bridge-jumpers:

Still others said they were hoarding because they saw others snapping up salt.

As we say in theh United States, "Geronimo!"   

Yes, fools rush in. Of course, next comes something just as familiar:  Buyer's remorse.

Former hoarders are now lining up at some grocery stores to ask for their money back, especially from shopkeepers who were charging as much as 10 times normal prices for the seasoning, according to Chinese news reports.

"I regret it very much. I will never behave this silly anymore," a woman who was denied a refund told the West China City News in Nanjing. She reportedly had bought enough salt to last her four years.

Four years worth of salt? Bet you don't feel so bad now about buying that 44-pack of beef jerky at Costco last week, do you?

Sadly, refunds were a tough sell at some stores, such as Wal-Mart. 

"We can't refund food products," said a store employee at a Beijing Wal-Mart on Monday. She gave only her last name, Jin.

Others were more fortunate, though.

At a high-end Ole Supermarket in Hangzhou, a line formed for returns Saturday. About 100 bags of salt and a bottle of soy sauce were refunded. Some buyers apparently stocked up on soy sauce after stores ran out of salt.

OK, now this is just silly: You couldn't get salt so you settled for soy sauce? 

Still, I may try that out the next time I'm forced to do the marketing:

"Honey, they were all out of potatoes. But it's OK; I bought potato chips."

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--Paul Whitefield

Photo: Chinese shoppers crowd a shop in an effort to buy salt in Lanzhou, northwest China's Gansu province. Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images/March 17, 2011

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