Have fast food brands reacted too slowly to China meat crisis?

25 July 2014 -


Three leading purveyors have condemned lax standards in China’s food industry, but may not have done enough to restore consumer confidence

Will Edwards

Food scandals in China seem to have become a regular feature on the news, and this week it’s the powerful brands of McDonald’s, Starbucks and KFC that have been affected.

The fast-food companies’ outlets in China have stopped using a Shanghai supplier after claims that it was selling out-of-date meat. McDonald’s and KFC’s parent company Yum Brands Inc apologised to customers on Monday after regulator the Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration said it had “decided to investigate claims of the alleged use of expired raw food material production and the processing of it in food”.

The regulator stepped in after state-run TV conducted an enquiry that appeared to show workers picking up meat from a factory floor as well as using meat past its expiry date. Yum China said: “We will not tolerate any violations of government laws and regulations from our suppliers.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for McDonald’s in China said: “If proven, the practices outlined in the reports are completely unacceptable to McDonald's anywhere in the world.”

China’s market is an important one for these US brands, and so they must be seen to be providing a consistent and suitable service to consumers. But this scandal will undoubtedly hit their profits, as customers worry over food standards. One individual, Xu Xinyu – interviewed near a Shanghai McDonald’s – said: “For now, I won’t go to eat at McDonald’s or KFC, at least until this whole thing settles down.”

While the brands involved seem to be doing at least the bare minimum in terms of communicating to their customers about the issues, it’s possible that this won’t be enough to restore confidence. It’s more likely that consumers will want to see action taken at the root of the problem to ensure that better controls are in place to prevent this from happening again and again in the future.

Will Edwards is managing director of media training consultancy Bluewood Training

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