A consumer group called the China Consumer Association (CCA) on Wednesday called for a national boycott of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) because the restaurant chain is running a toy promotion that drives some Chinese customers into delirious buying frenzies.
KFC launched the promotion to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its extremely successful expansion into China. KFC was the first American fast food company to open restaurants in China, and today it is the most successful by a wide margin, boasting over 7,900 locations in 1,600 cities operated by a corporation called Yum China.
KFC has almost double the Chinese market share of runner-up McDonalds, and over three times as many locations. The main KFC restaurant in Beijing sprawls over 3,600 square feet and seats 500 people.
Kentucky Fried Chicken is, to sum up, a very big deal in China.
KFC’s Chinese locations include some local menu items not sold in American stores, and it runs some promotions unique to the Chinese market. Last week, the restaurant teamed up with a toy company called Pop Mart for its 35th anniversary celebration, offering “mystery boxes” containing special editions of a collectible doll called Dimoo.
Dimoo are plastic dolls of wide-eyed children dressed in fanciful costumes. The KFC Dimoo are dressed up as various items from the menu, plus a Dimoo of the company’s founder and longtime mascot, Colonel Sanders.
#KFC and toymaker #PopMart have joined hands to launch Dimoo&KFC toys, creating a frenzy on the internet, with consumers sharing photos or videos of dozens of fried chicken “family buckets” that they’ve bought to get the toys. #InvestinChina https://t.co/3eXoU0tJ7P pic.twitter.com/gFoddw7CLc
— Invest in China (@investing_china) January 11, 2022
There are a lot of Dimoo to collect, and over the summer a secondary craze of “DIY Dimoo” swept China, as avid collectors began creating their own Dimoo or customizing the existing toys. In China, Dimoo are like Cabbage Patch Kids or Beanie Babies all over again. As with those earlier crazes, some fans are going overboard in their zeal to collect as many as possible.
KFC’s Happy Meal-style “mystery boxes” turned Dimoo collecting into a form of gambling, with huge mountains of fried chicken as the ante. The toys are only included with KFC’s “family bucket” meals, which cost 99 yuan (about $15.45).
The CCA called for a boycott after a man spent about $1649 dollars buying 106 KFC meals to get the randomly-distributed toys inside.
Other anecdotes of abuse included collectors paying other people to eat KFC meals so they could get the toys, or simply tossing the unwanted food in the trash once their Dimoo collectibles were in hand.
The waste of food was particularly irksome to critics of the promotion because KFC restaurants in China and Australia are currently grappling with shortages of chicken and potatoes due to supply chain issues and coronavirus-related staff shortages. Chinese dictator Xi Jinping has been running a national crusade against food waste since the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic began.
The CCA accused KFC of using “limited-edition blind box sales to induce and condone consumers’ irrational and excessive purchase of meal sets, which goes against public order, good customs and the spirit of the law.”
The CCA bills itself as a “grassroots” organization, but nothing in China is truly independent of the totalitarian Communist Party, so its call for a boycott could be taken as a warning shot at KFC before regulators get involved.
The boycott threat does not seem to have slowed the promotion down much and, as the state-run China Daily noted Tuesday, the promotion is nearly over anyway – over 85 percent of the special edition KFC toys have been sold, and Pop Mart said they might all be gone by now if not for coronavirus lockdowns in several large Chinese cities.
China Daily noted the KFC Dimoo are already appearing on third-party e-commerce platforms at markups of up to 800 percent for the rarest items. Social media posts on the KFC promotion have racked up over 91 million views. A full set of the six most widely-distributed KFC Dimoo goes for about $120, while the ultra-rare “hidden” toy sells for more than that all by itself.
Until the CCA called for a boycott, the KFC Dimoo promotion was touted as a rousing success for corporate partnerships between Chinese and Western companies – a model for how a foreign company such as KFC could strike gold by teaming up with Chinese firms to offer products tailored for local markets. China Daily praised these partnerships as a sign of China’s growing “cultural confidence.”
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