Break by McDonald’s from China making others in Japan nervous

JIJI

The decision last Friday by McDonald’s Co. (Japan) to halt sales of all chicken products made from meat from China came as a shock to other restaurant operators and retailers in Japan that use products from China.

The fast-food giant made the decision amid growing concerns among consumers over the safety of Chinese-made foods following the revelation that Shanghai Husi Food Co. was using chicken meat beyond its expiration date.

Earlier last week, the hamburger chain stopped sales of Chicken McNuggets procured from Shanghai Husi.

Few companies have followed McDonald’s move, at least so far.

“We should not think all Chinese food items are bad,” said an official at a major restaurant operator.

But restaurants and retailers are nervous because customers may start pressing them hard to break from China.

“Is that really true?” asked an official at FamilyMart Co. over McDonald’s decision on the all-out halt in sales of Chinese-made chicken products.

FamilyMart, which has stopped selling its Garlic Nuggets and Popcorn Chicken made by Shanghai Husi, unveiled a plan Friday to urge its Chinese suppliers to ensure strict product quality control.

In the wake of the scandal, McDonald’s initially planned to switch to other suppliers in China and Thailand.

But after receiving 1,430 inquiries from consumers in the four days through Friday, the hamburger chain decided to source all of its chicken products from Thailand while fully stopping the use of Chinese products.

In announcing Friday’s decision, President Sarah Casanova said in a statement that the most important thing for McDonald’s is customer trust in its food and brand.

Rival hamburger chain MOS Food Services Inc., which sells fried chicken sourced from China, also received inquiries on food safety from consumers in the wake of Shanghai Husi scandal.

Still, switching product procurement to other countries alone may not be a solution, amid a spate of problems related to food from elsewhere in the world.

Last week, frozen “shishamo,” a type of smelt, from Vietnam was found to have contained rat poison. In Japan last year, pesticide was discovered in frozen food products made at a Gunma Prefecture plant run by Aqli Foods Corp., now integrated into Maruha Nichiro Corp.

“Similar problems could occur in Thailand,” a MOS Food executive pointed out. “Strengthening checking systems is the only solution to prevent such problems.”

“It is not a matter of where we should procure food products,” said a public relations official of a major “gyudon” beef-on-rice bowl restaurant chain. “How we should ensure safety is important,” the official said, adding that there is no need to stop procurement from China soon.

Japanese restaurant operators rely on imports from China for many of the foods they serve to meet customer requests for low-priced items, and they are therefore facing the difficult challenge of balancing food safety with low prices.