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China's annual consumer rights show targets Burger King, Qutoutiao

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, July 16 (Reuters) - U.S. fast food chain Burger King and Chinese news app Qutoutiao were singled out for criticism on Thursday by China’s state television station in its high-profile annual show aimed at protecting consumers.

Since it was first aired by state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) in 1991, the television programme has grown to become an event watched in fear by international and local brands alike, due to the potential impact on sales and public relations of appearing on the show’s list of shame.

Burger King, owned by Restaurant Brands International (RBI) but whose Chinese outlets are mainly managed by Tab Food Investments (TFI), was criticised for allegedly selling products that failed to meet its own standards.

The programme cited a Burger King outlet in Nanchang, southeast China, where it alleged employees only put two pieces of cheese on the burger when there should be three.

“The boss is stingy,” said one employee, whose identity was obscured by the programme.

Burger King China said in a statement on its official Weibo account that the outlet was managed by a franchisee, and apologised for management mistakes given the practices were a departure from its “consumer is king” motto.

“We have immediately set up a work group to suspend operations at its (the franchisee’s) outlets, carry out rectifications and investigate,” it said. RBI and TFI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Qutoutiao, an app that delivers customised feeds of articles and short videos to users based on algorithms, was criticised in an opening segment of the show for its advertising practices. The New York-listed company saw its shares tumble 13.55% in pre-trading, even before the programme detailed its criticisms.

In a statement also posted on it Weibo account, Qutoutiao said it realised there were many issues with its advertising ecosystem and that it would carry out an investigation.

“We are very grateful for the oversight and criticism provided by CCTV and the media,” it said.

The show, usually hosted on March 15 to coincide with world consumer rights day, was delayed this year by the coronavirus pandemic.

It has in previous years criticised foreign companies such as Apple and Starbucks as well as homegrown ones including Alibaba Group’s Taobao marketplace and food delivery service Ele.me, resulting in prompt apologies from the companies.

Last year, however, it did not name and shame any foreign or well-known local brands. (Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Mark Potter)

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