China Investigates Starbucks for Expired Ingredients, Targets US: Commentator

By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
December 15, 2021 Updated: December 15, 2021

Starbucks closed two stores in East China on Dec. 13, hours after Chinese state-run media reported the stores were using expired ingredients.

Public opinion on Chinese social media platforms quickly criticized Starbucks products, which are more expensive than local Chinese brands but better in quality and taste.

According to a China commentator, this is the newest case in which the Chinese regime used its propaganda system to attack a foreign enterprise.

“There’s no doubt that the Starbucks scandal is a designed campaign that the Chinese regime is using to express its anger toward the U.S. government for boycotting the Beijing Olympics,” U.S.-based China affairs analyst Tang Jingyuan told The Epoch Times on Dec. 14. “[Beijing] chose Starbucks because it’s very popular in China.”

Starbucks released its 2021 fiscal report on Oct. 28, in which the American brand said its “China comparable store sales increased 17 percent, driven by a 19 percent increase in comparable transactions and a two percent decrease in average ticket,” for the year. Starbucks had 5,300 stores across more than 200 cities in China.

Tang explained the details of the Chinese regime’s propaganda strategy against Starbucks.

“It [the Chinese regime] chose state-run media in Beijing to report the scandal and sent the reporters from Beijing to Wuxi, a city over 830 miles away, to be the undercover investigators. It wanted them to do it secretly, so local people wouldn’t be aware of what they were doing,” Tang said. “After Beijing News released the video, it used all the propaganda machines to broadcast and promote the video all around the country.

“Everybody knows clearly that China’s censorship apparatus doesn’t promote content that doesn’t meet the regime’s needs. In other words, [it] can’t be broadly seen in China,” Tang said.

Epoch Times Photo
Visitors wait for their coffee at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery outlet, in Shanghai, China, on Dec. 6, 2017. (-/AFP via Getty Images)

In September, while Chinese telecommunicate giant Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou was awaiting a hearing in a Canadian court on whether to extradite her to the United States for alleged business relations with Iran, the Chinese regime fined Canada Goose, a Canadian down and feather company, $70,700 for using duck down mixed with goose down. In early December, Canada Goose suffered a drop of 14 percent on the stock market after the Chinese regime criticized its refund policy in China.

In March, Nike, Swedish clothing company H&M, and several other foreign brands witnessed their sales dropping after they refused to use cotton from the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese regime is persecuting Uyghurs in forced labor camps.

Epoch Times Photo
A woman browses her phone while walking past a Nike logo inside a shopping mall, in Beijing, on June 2, 2021. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images)

Chinese Comments

After Beijing News posted a video on Dec. 12—shot by undercover reporters—to China’s social media platform Weibo, Chinese censors promoted the video, allowing it to gain over 3.14 million views within one day.

Several portals and news websites also reposted the video, causing the total views to reach over 270 million in 24 hours and anger a substantial number of viewers.

“Starbucks has a bad conscience to use expired materials. Their products are expensive,” Chinese netizen Kana commented on Weibo, gaining 9,565 likes in one day.

Huxiu, a popular Chinese news website that attacks middle- and upper-class readers, posted an article on Dec. 14 titled “The Evil Starbucks! Of Course, We Won’t Forgive It,” to criticize Starbucks.

On Dec. 13 and 14, the market supervision administration in central China’s Hunan Province and eastern China’s Shandong Province quickly investigated their local Starbucks stores by hiring cameramen to broadcast the entire process. These Starbucks stores didn’t use expired ingredients.

Epoch Times Photo
Illustrations drawn by employees on coffee cups at Starbucks during the Five-day May Day holiday in Wuhan, China, on May 3, 2020. (Getty Images)

Starbucks Scandal

Beijing News reporters applied to be clerks at two Starbucks stores in Wuxi in Jiangsu Province, and were hired in October and November.

They then shot a video by using hidden cameras. In the released video, the undercover reporters captured their coworkers changing the expiration dates on cream, cocoa chips, matcha, and black and peach tea when they were close to expiring.

After the video was released, Starbucks China released a statement on Dec. 13, saying that the two stores were closed and under reform. The company will retrain all employees in China to strictly follow the food safety standards, and will arrange more inspections in the future.

“We sincerely apologize and will actively improve the quality of service. We will coordinate the investigation very closely and sincerely ask for scrutiny from the public and the media,” read the statement.

Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.