If you’re a business at the top of your industry, it’s almost inevitable that, at some point, something will go disastrously wrong. They might make millions of dollars every single day, but the world’s biggest businesses are all still made up of relatively normal people. Unfortunately, relatively normal people are all capable of doing silly things.
Even if you put every contingency plan in place, human error means that there is always a risk of scandal. This is just as true for the fast food industry as it is anywhere else. Maybe because food companies are in our consciousness every single day, their mishaps seem to hit home far harder than those of other industries. Prepare to roll your eyes and recoil in horror. These are the biggest fast food scandals of all time.
1. Chinese Meat
“Made in China” may have lost much of the stigma that was once attached to the label, but that doesn’t mean that everything always goes according to plan. In 2015, a meat smuggling ring was busted, after it was found that they were flogging frozen meat that dated back to the 1970s to several major fast food chains. In many cases, the meat had been frozen, thawed and refrozen again several times before it made it to the consumer.
2. Australian Pizza
Fast food companies are notorious for taking liberties with workers rights, but even by the industry’s low standards, a 2017 Australian case seemed ridiculous. It was found that several Pizza Hut franchises had been paying their workers significantly below the minimum wage, with some owed upwards of $12,000. Not to be beaten by the rivals, it also emerged that Domino’s had at the same time been illegally selling visas for $150,000 on the black market.
3. All the King’s Horses
The world has a funny relationship with horsemeat. In many places, it is considered a delicacy and treated just like beef, pork or chicken. The UK is not one of those places. Hence why, in 2013, the news that Burger King had been putting horse meat in their burgers was met with public outcry. This discovery followed years of denial, which ultimately made everyone even more angry.
4. Bottle Job
You could spend hours arguing whether there is any discernible difference between mineral and tap water, but the fact remains that you should expect to get what you read on the bottle. When it was discovered, therefore, in 1999 that Coca-Cola had been filling their “natural spring”, “Dasani” water bottles with nothing but purified tap water, punters were understandably miffed. The furor caused Dasani to withdraw entirely from the UK after only five weeks on shelves.
5. Krispy Kreme Khaos
When you’re name already has two K’s in it, it might not be a great idea to create an entire advertising campaign that adds an extra one into the mix. Krispy Kreme didn’t get this memo. It didn’t take long for people to realise that 2015’s “Krispy Kreme Klub” initiative shared an unfortunate acronym with one of the world’s most notorious and racist white supremacist groups.
6. Black Soft Drinks Matter
Nothing gets the internet more annoyed than when a major company tries to capitalise on a popular social movement purely for profit. That didn’t stop Pepsi from giving it a go anyway in 2017. Recreating the Black Lives matter protests was always going to be risky, but then suggesting that American race relations could be solved by Kendall Jenner and a can of soft drink was just ridiculous. No wonder people were annoyed.
7. Hero to Zero
There’s nothing worse for a franchise than finding out that the personality you have based your entire advertising model around for 15 years is actually a criminal. That’s exactly what happened to Subway in 2015, when it was discovered that spokesperson and legendary brand ambassador Jared Fogle had been convicted of possessing indecent images of children and have sex with a minor. Not someone you want to see on a billboard, holding your sandwiches.
Even if you’re ultra careful as a business, scandal can strike you down. At the end of the day, all you can do is pray, and keep a PR crisis team well paid at all times. You never know when they might be needed.