A meat scare has forced some of the most respected foreign owned brands in China to stop the sale of certain products after discovering that a main supplier has been repackaging expired meats which have been used in fast food restaurants across China and Japan. Brands known to be involved include behemoths McDonalds, KFC, Burger King and Starbucks.

Food and drug safety is an unusually sensitive issue in China following scandals over the past decade in which infants, hospital patients and others have been killed or made ill by fake or adulterated milk powder, drugs and other goods. And this new scandal claiming that expired and contaminated meat have been processed with fresh meat for sale in these outlets has had no less of an impact.

Because of a lack of government regulation in China, foreign brands, specifically food and medical brands, are seen as more reliable than Chinese competitors.

Yet this recent incident is a warning for the world’s largest fast-food brands in the world’s biggest growth market. Food safety concerns have now spread to the major American brands that many Chinese consumers presumed were above the risk and suddenly giants such as McDonald’s, Yum Brands and Starbucks have to earn back the trust of consumers in a growth market where they can least afford image damage.

Milorad Ajder shared thoughts on how this breach of trust could impact the growth of these brands in his article “China Meat Scandal: Why consumers are turing on Western fast food brands”-

Betrayal of trust is the fastest way to undermine a firm’s reputation and the standing of its brands. Our Global Advisor study of consumers around the world shows a clear connection between the level of trust people have in a company and their propensity to consider buying its products.

This should be of particular concern for Western firms seeking to crack the growing middle class market in China. The adulteration of food products has been an ongoing problem for the country. And as most previous incidents involved indigenous firms, the result has been a positive halo effect for Western brands – perceived to be more reliable and quality conscious than their Chinese counterparts. 

This could now be at risk, and may even affect companies that haven’t been connected to this latest scandal.

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Brands that want respect and business from the Chines market need to prove that safety is of the upmost importance to them and must keep their supply chain in tight check to avoid any scandals that suggest otherwise. Once a brand has an incident, the negative stigma is near impossible to reverse and the Chinese public, on a whole, is not very forgiving.

Read more from Milorad Ajder in The City AM here and more from Reuters here.

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