OSAKA – Hankyu Hanshin Hotels Co., under fire for deceiving consumers by misrepresenting items on its menus, is drawing sympathy from some in the food and hotel industries.
According to people involved in the food service industry, false advertising of this kind “happens quite often, and the company might have not intended to falsify the menus.”
During a news conference Monday, Hankyu Hanshin Hotels President Hiroshi Desaki claimed that touting Vannamei shrimp as Shiba shrimp is a customary practice among people in the industry.
Desaki also said the company did not feel it necessary to inform customers it was using a cheaper type of scallion than “kujo negi,” a traditional Japanese scallion mainly grown in Kujo, southern Kyoto. He said the scallions were served as “a side dish.”
Desaki claimed that although lying about the nature of the items on the menus was far from a simple mistake, the company never intended to profit from the misrepresentations.
He admitted, though, that it was a mistake “for which we have already received a severe rebuke.”
According to sources in to the food industry, Shiba shrimp is available only in small quantities and at high prices. The sources said that a Chinese restaurant in the city of Chiba resolved the problem by offering “ebi” chili (stir-fried shrimp in chili sauce) as two different menu items. The price of the item named Shiba ebi chili sauce, apparently using Shiba shrimp, is 1½ times higher than for the item named ebi chili sauce.
Desaki was criticized, however, by a man who has worked for Hankyu Hanshin Hotels restaurants and other eateries.
“If a hotel with such a strong brand image labels an item as Shiba shrimp, everyone will be deceived,” he said. “All restaurants that I worked at had different policies, but the only difference was whether the owners advertised the items (with cheaper and more expensive ingredients) separately.”
Amid the mounting criticism, a 53-year-old owner of a Chinese-style eatery in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, expressed understanding for the misrepresented fare.
“When I entered this business, we used to call all small shrimp ‘Shiba shrimp,’ ” the owner said. “For people of my age, it can happen.”
An owner of a restaurant in the Kinki region that serves dishes using kujo negi said: “We inform our customers” if ingredients have to be replaced due to a typhoon or in other similar situations.
“In this business, (false labeling) is very common,” he said. “The point is whether the issue will come to light or not.”
There are those who worry that the scandal, which involved eight restaurants run by Hankyu Hanshin Hotels, may spread to other companies.
The hotel operator decided at a board meeting Tuesday to appoint Kazuhide Fujimoto, a managing executive officer of the Osaka-based company, to take over as president from Desaki, who will resign to take responsibility for the scandal.
Fujimoto will succeed Desaki on Friday when Mitsuo Nozaki, a board member of parent company Hankyu Hanshin Holdings Inc., will become part-time chairman of the hotel chain.
Fujimoto, a 63-year-old career hotelier, will be tasked with strengthening the company’s management and restoring customer trust.