Over these past days, business and general media has produced high visibility reports of expired meat products being served among global restaurant chains operating within China. The news of the expired meat originated on China’s Dragon TV Network. By now, many of our readers, particularly within consumer products and food service environments have read of these ongoing developments, along with consumer, regulatory and industry reactions.
Well-known brands such as McDonald’s, Yum Brands (operators of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut) and Burger King were named by both media and Chinese food regulatory agencies for offering such expired meat products to customers. The expired chicken and beef meat products were traced by restaurant operators to food supplier Shanghai Husi Food Company, which is affiliated with U.S. based OSI Group, a $6 billion producer of food products. OSI itself has garnered what is reported to be a solid reputation as a quality focused food supplier.
According to published reports, the Chinese based distributor Shanghai Husiallegedly re-labeled the meat products with new expiration dates after the original date had passed. Chinese authorities quickly detained five people as a result of these incidents. The Shanghai Food and Drug Administration later concluded that the violations were not the result of an individual but rather the result of an organized effort by the Chinese distributor, which is a serious charge. However, reports seem to indicate that the practice may have been limited to a single Shanghai Husi processing facility.
The CEO of OSI Group was quick to issue a public apology for the actions of its China based subsidiary. That statement begins: “What happened at Husi Shanghai is completely unacceptable. I will not try and defend it or explain it. It was terribly wrong, and I am appalled that it ever happened in the company that I own.” The distributor further pointed out that Chinese authorities inspected other facilities across China and found no issues. The supplier further dispatched a team of its own global experts to ensure that the problem is addressed and corrected.
Yum Brands took quick action by terminating OSI as its supplier in China Australia and the U.S… Burger King suspended all orders from the Chinese distributor. But something different is occurring with McDonalds.
Initially, McDonalds CEO issued a statement indicating that the chain was misled by its Chinese supplier and cut its ties with that supplier. But on Friday, the Wall Street Journal published an article (paid subscription or free metered view) indicating that the chain would stand by OSI Group, its loyal supplier for over 59 years. According to the WSJ, the supply agreement dates back to 1955 when founder Ray Kroc was looking to expand across the United States and now supplies up to 85 percent of McDonald’s global locations. OSI has been instrumental in supporting McDonald’s global expansion and reportedly helping the chain to maintain consistent quality standards. As noted, OSI is not just a supplier to McDonalds but to many other global customers. In 2011, this supplier was cited in a quality award by McDonalds for supply activities both in the U.S. and Asia. According to the WSJ, in 2013 food distributor Sysco cited the supplier with its “Gold Supplier” award.
By Thursday of last week, McDonalds decided to retain OSI as its global supplier, utilizing other OSI owned factories within China. A statement issued to the WSJ stated: “We will not walk away from the issue but we are committed to resolving it.”
Supply Chain Matters has a two-fold reaction to these events. First and foremost, any food supplier that resorts to illegal product classification practices deserves the consequences of such actions. On the other hand, a supplier that has garnered years of experience as a quality focused and rock solid supplier deserves the opportunity for the facts to come out and to take action to totally correct any deficiencies.
In this era of instantaneous response and 7 by 24 news cycles, it becomes all too convenient to throw a supplier “under the bus” of negative publicity. Loyalty to a long-standing business relationship seems to be a fleeting principle. Of course, a global restaurant services provider with such a dependency on a single supplier will often find it difficult to quickly source alternative suppliers. One could argue that that might have led to the McDonald’s response.
However, kudos to McDonald’s management for taking a step back and giving its long-time supplier the benefit of the doubt with the opportunity to get to the facts and resolve the issue (s). A long history as trusted supplier deserves some consideration.