U.S. fast food brands receive mixed feelings in China

An employee holds a burger baton at the cash desk of a Burger King fast food restaurant in Moscow, Russia in this 2013 file photo. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)
An employee holds a burger baton at the cash desk of a Burger King fast food restaurant in Moscow, Russia in this 2013 file photo. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

The recent food safety scandal in China has turned the spotlight on several U.S.-based fast-food chains operating in the country, including McDonald’s, Yum Brands’ KFC and Pizza Hut.

Five employees of Shanghai Husi Food, the Chinese supplier by Chicago-based OSI Group, have been detained by Chinese law enforcement for allegedly supplying expired meat products. 

China has a long history of food safety problems, but increasingly the emphasis has been on problems at U.S. chains. And as the scandal unfolds, nearly all Chinese major media outlets have received hundreds and thousands of comments on Weibo, China’s twittersphere.

Some Weibo users said they would now stay clear of foreign fast-food restaurants. “It’s us, consumers, who are duped by McDonald’s and KFC. I’m glad I never liked their food,” one user commented.

“I hope these foreign fast-food restaurants can all get out of China. No need to apologize or compensate,” said an architect designer who works for a Chinese company.

“It’s always McDonald’s that gets in trouble, and they can always find excuses. Stay away from McDonald’s if you want to be healthy,” said one user.

But others said the fast-food chains were being unfairly blamed. “McDonald’s is taking responsibility for the faults of its supplier. They were duped into buying tainted meat products. People should not target all criticisms to McDonald’s, because it’s not really their fault,” said one user.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese government, recently published four editorials on the problems, pointing out that there have been at least 17 food safety scandals over the past five years involved with foreign fast-food restaurants in China, six of them originated from Chinese suppliers.

“Despite foreign fast-food chains have been frequently involved with food safety issues, these companies still have no problem gaining trusts from Chinese consumers,” the editorial said. But China’s domestic fast-food industry is still too underdeveloped to provide consumers with better alternatives, they said.

Yum Brands has been quickly expanding in China. By the end of 2013, there are 4,563 KFC restaurants and 1,264 Pizza Hut in mainland China. McDonald’s has said it plans to open another 300 stores in China by the end of 2014, according to previous report by The Washington Post.

“The widespread Chinese media coverage about food safety scandals and the government actions have actually proved that the government is trying to fix the food safety issue in the country,” Shaun Rein, managing director of the China Market Research Group, told The Post. “While it’s not an act of protectionism for China’s domestic fast food brands, it’s easier to target foreign fast food chains and push for a change.”

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Jiaxi Lu · July 23