| SHANGHAI, March 14
SHANGHAI, March 14 McDonald's Corp will
give away more than a million breakfast McMuffins across China
on Monday, a few days after Chinese state television airs its
annual expose on corporate malpractice to mark World Consumer
The promotion, the U.S. fast food chain says, is purely
On Friday, news programme "3.15" - one of China's most
widely watched TV shows - will name and shame companies that it
says violated the trust of consumers in a nation forecast to
become the world's largest retail market in three years.
The TV show, similar to U.S. CBS network's "60 Minutes",
often catches companies off guard, and the fallout can sting as
McDonald's itself found out last year when it was criticised on
food safety. McDonald's apologised, and its shares fell as
China's army of microbloggers unleashed their anger online.
"The minute there are questions about your practices that
appear in any way credible, that can be devastating to consumer
trust and extremely difficult to get back," said Shanghai-based
James Roy, a senior analyst at China Market Research Group.
While most firms deny their actions are connected to the TV
show, "3.15" appears to have prompted a spike in corporate good
behaviour in China aimed at balancing any negative press.
In addition to the free McDonald's breakfasts, Wal-Mart
Stores Inc is running an 'adopt a tree' programme. Last
year, the Beijing Food Safety Administration accused the U.S.
retailer of food safety violations, and in 2011, its China CEO
stepped down after another food-related scandal.
Hypermarket Carrefour SA, blasted in last year's
TV expose for food safety lapses, has implemented a fruit and
vegetable tagging system.
Dealers of Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co. Ltd
are hosting lectures on vehicle care and safety, while Chinese
furniture firm Ocalone is giving away 100 tonnes of rice,
according to local media reports.
"We have been through it once and we know how it feels,"
said Vivian Zhang, senior director of communications at
McDonald's China, in an email to Reuters.
Asked if the breakfast promotion was related to Consumer
Day, she said: "There is no connection."
Carrefour officials declined to comment for this story and
Wal-Mart did not respond to emailed queries.
A separate report by state-run China Central Television in
December triggered a food safety scare at fast food chain Yum
Brands Inc, dashing sales in its top market.
Food safety and environmental pollution are chronic problems
in China, where just this week official media said around 6,000
pigs were found dead in one of Shanghai's main water sources.
The number of Chinese who said they thought food safety was
a major concern has more than tripled between 2008 and 2012, a
report by private U.S. think-tank Pew Research Center shows.
Public anxiety over food safety often spreads like wildfire,
keeping consumer companies from Coca-Cola Co to cosmetics
firm Avon Products Inc on their toes.
"It's easy to imagine why company brand managers would stay
up all night or wake up in a cold sweat," said Karl Gerth, an
academic and author of a book on Chinese consumer behaviour.
The Consumer Day expose is also a hot topic for China's half
a billion-strong online Weibo community.
The name "3.15" was posted more than 1.5 million times over
the last week on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, with many
users asking who will be this year's target.
"In 2011, it was Kumho Tire Co Inc, in 2012 it
was McDonald's and Carrefour. Who will '3.15' turn its gaze
towards this year?" asked online platform Sohu Business on
While companies are keen to pre-empt negative news, they
have no guarantee their promotions will convince consumers.
"Those companies trying to make themselves look good are
just making things worse," said Fang Libing, a financial analyst
based in Shanghai. "The more they try to hide, the more they are