WELWYN GARDEN CITY, UK: British wine, beer and liquor retail holding company First Quench is in danger of being swamped by a tsunami of 40%-off wine and champagne discount vouchers it posted on a company website.

Intended only for suppliers and their immediate friends, the discount vouchers have been replicated and distributed globally via blogs, email and chatrooms.

The unplanned takeup could pose a threat of similar proportions to the free air travel promotion that brought down Hoover UK in the 1990s. Wails a hapless FQ spokesman: "It was never intended to get this big."

The voucher is valid for purchases at all chain stores in the First Quench stable, among them Threshers, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up, Haddows and The Local.

It first appeared on the website of South African wine company Stormhoek, which estimates the coupon has been downloaded over 800,000 times. The Threshers website has collapsed under the weight of applications.

"What has taken us by surprise is the scale of consumers talking to each other and passing it on to the next person," says Stormhoek's Alistair Pearson.

"I think the company are now a little bit worried that they will be able to handle the level of trade, but they have over 2,500 stores and know this business."

The offer ends on Sunday 10 December and it is unlikely that the promo's full financial implications can be assessed until after closure.

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff