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China Targets KFC, Starbucks in State-led Crackdown on International Brands

A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: January 14, 2022
Beijing, CHINA: Customers line up to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken in Beijing on July 26, 2007. (Image: TEH ENG KOON/AFP via Getty Images)

In a recent wave of boycotts seen in China, KFC has found itself as the latest target after being accused of food waste amid growing concern over food safety regulations in the country. 

The accusations triggered a wave of negative press for the American corporation after Chinese state media and a national consumer watchdog issued an announcement on Jan. 12 criticizing the fast food chain’s internal operations and food handling. 

The China Consumers Association (CCA) specifically targeted the company’s new meal promotion, which allows customers to receive random selections of free toys with their meals. Consumers are able to collect limited edition versions of large-eyed and round-faced Dimoo dolls when buying these set meals. 

The promotion has led to a rush of people buying the meals just for the toys without having any intention of eating the food, the statement released by the CCA said.

Customers who wish to obtain the full set of dolls have to purchase at least six meals, according to a flier posted on the company’s official Weibo account – China’s version of Twitter. 

A few people have even bought more than 100 meals at once, spending almost 10,500 yuan (about US$1,650) in an attempt to collect the complete line, the watchdog said.

Some of KFC’s new figurines included in its promotional meals, as seen in an advertisement posted on its Chinese social media account.

This is clearly “causing unnecessary food waste due to overbuying,” it added in its statement, noting that Chinese authorities have rolled out new measures to prevent food waste and urged companies to follow suit in order to prevent being fined. 

KFC ‘preying on consumers’ irrationality’

The association also slammed KFC for what it described as preying on “consumers’ irrationality” in order to encourage them to buy more meals, “which goes against public order, good customs and the spirit of law.”

Last year, the Chinese government unveiled an “action plan” encouraging people not to order more food than they need, and to report restaurants that waste food and supplies. It also urged consumers “not to be induced or misled into excessive consumption.”

Recently, authorities in China have cracked down on foreign brands, particularly American companies, in what some say is a ploy by the government to create animosity amongst consumers and a preference for Chinese brands.

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KFC unveiled its newest campaign to celebrate the franchise’s 35th year in the country last week. The promotion is a partnership with Pop Mart, a Chinese toy maker known for making mystery boxes. 

In China, the chain is owned by Yum China (YUMC) – a joint U.S. and Hong Kong-listed company that also runs Taco Bell and Pizza Hut in the mainland.

Yum China did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the CCA’s publication.