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FOOD & BEVERAGE | Contributed Content, Hong Kong
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Lam Kwok Tai Sunny

What McDonald's should learn from this food scandal

BY LAM KWOK TAI SUNNY

McDonald's senior management has apologised to Hong Kong consumers for not communicating well and disappointing them, but the fast-food giant refused to take questions in a press briefing. Misfortunes never come singly.

McDonald’s initially denied sourcing products from Shanghai Husi, but admitted the import of Husi products a few days after. It is a McU-turn.

Local customers are worried about the food quality of McDonald’s. This has made sales slump by 50% in some McDonald’s shops, according to the market news. It may cause operation crisis after the food safety and press relations crisis.

On 20 July, McDonald’s and KFC in China said that they had stopped using meat from Shanghai Husi. After one week, McDonald’s managing director in Hong Kong, Randy Lai Wai-sze, promised that the company would never source supplies from Shanghai Husi plant again. It was a late reply for the public, but it is the right first step to tackle the crisis.

After apologising and shifting the supply from other sources, the next step is building up confidence in the public of McDonald’s and even increasing sales to normal levels. However, this is not enough because the crisis will happen again if McDonald’s does not learn from this seriously.

The public has been disappointed by McDonald’s communication. In the past, one of the successes of McDonald’s has been its communication. The fast-food giant makes common and even unhealthy food attractive. McDonald’s should review their communication, and public relations policies.

Making U-turns and not taking questions in press briefings do not represent a professional and open-minded style for a global company. The first thing that McDonald’s should learn is communications in relation to crisis management.

One day after the press briefing, Undersecretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan Siu-See, said McDonald’s told them that there was no such food from Husi first. Then, the centre for Food Safety (CFS) found out that there were imports from Husi. McDonald’s did not report the truth of the imports directly.

The confidence of some customers will be undermined for a longer period of time. They will have suspicions about McDonald’s food quality and arrangement. Honesty is the basic element to solve the problem when they discuss this scandal with the government.

Third, the government has the authority to check all kinds of information with regard to food safety because the public is concerned about it. Lee Siu-yuen, assistant director of food and environmental hygiene, said that although the fast-food giant did not attend a scheduled meeting with the centre, a teleconference was arranged afterwards.

Why did McDonald’s not attend the meeting? The public may have many enquiries about it. The matter will be complicated. To openly and sincerely cooperate with CFS is a smart way to avoid matters becoming worse.

McDonald’s should carry out ad hoc plant visits instead of sending notice to the plant before a plant visit. Normally, suppliers of international fast-food companies are certified with HACCP (Hazard analysis and critical control points). The food is supplied with a health certificate.

Husi is a regional and even global supplier for McDonald’s. As usual, McDonald’s arranges staff to visit the factory with notice to the supplier. The staff of the plant will have good preparation in regard to hygiene, discipline, and everything.

McDonald’s should make ad hoc plant visits without notice in order to maintain the factory with a high level of standardisation in food safety and quality.

McDonald’s should have two suppliers of important ingredients, such as vegetables, meat, and breads which are the core ingredients of hamburgers and main food. After a few days of the scandal, McDonald’s announced its cessation of Husi products.

The public may be concerned about the single supplier policy for core products in McDonald’s that will cause fast-food giants to react slowly when a supplier has a food safety issue.

McDonald’s is the victim this time. Sophisticated handling skills can help them avoid getting into trouble. McDonald’s is a buddy for many people. Are you still lovin' it?

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Lam Kwok Tai Sunny

Lam Kwok Tai Sunny

Lam Kwok Tai Sunny has been a columnist and retail professional in Asia for over 10 years. He was born and raised in Hong Kong and graduated from the MBA program at the University of Northern Iowa, U.S. He is dedicated to writing with insight into the retail industry in Asia for different columns in both print and digital media.

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