In response to recent food safety problems, Starbucks China posted on its official Weibo account a statement on Monday saying that it had immediately closed two stores involved in a food safety scandal and launched an in-depth investigation into the matter.
An undercover investigation by Beijing News found that two Starbucks stores in Wuxi, Zhejiang Province, had several food safety issues.
In one store, a bucket of chocolate liquid stored in the refrigerator had passed its shelf life, but the clerk did not scrap it according to company regulations. On the same day, the clerk used this bucket of expired chocolate liquid to make drinks for customers more than once.
In another instance, a half pot of black tea that should have been poured out was instead mixed with a new pot of the same liquid by a shop assistant. The clerk then wrote a new shelf life label to replace the old one.
One other instance had a pot of matcha originally due to expire at 13:49 on November 6th relabelled. Ten minutes before the expiration of the matcha beverage a shop assistant tore off the shelf life label and put on a new one.
Ignoring company regulations, one duty supervisor asked an employee to wipe the trash can with a special towel meant for cleaning the cafe bar. The clerk continued to clean the bar and coffee machine after cleaning other places with the towel.
After many days of undercover work, the Beijing News’ reporter found that the infractions were not accidental. Driven by convenience and perceived efficiency, some stores pursued “hidden rules” for food safety.
Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province is one of the areas where Starbucks has only recently entered. There are more than 80 stores in the city, most of which are located in commercial districts and office buildings. At present, all Starbucks stores in mainland China are directly-operated stores meaning that Starbucks has not opened up its franchise to just anyone. By the third quarter of 2021, Starbucks had more than 5,100 direct stores in more than 200 cities in mainland China.
This business model seems to have led to the illegal operation of some clerks, which is to obtain better operational performance in the store. One Starbucks employee said: “The company assesses the turnover and profit margin of the store. If the cost of ingredients is too high, the data won’t look good.”
According to Starbucks’ regulations, stores should conduct food safety inspections every day, and management teams and food safety teams should regularly conduct internal audits of the stores in various regions. Each store receives at least one third-party unannounced inspection every year, and 20% of the stores usually receive the inspection twice. In Wuxi, one Starbucks clerk said that every half month, the superior management department will come to the store for inspection, but that stores often have ways to escape these inspections and cover up any problems.