Bearish online consumers rip into salmon brand sent upstream by grocer Kate & Kimi

By Yang Lan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/11 19:13:39

Sources of products by online grocers are questioned by consumers. Photo: CFP



Shanghai's online grocery store Kate & Kimi came under fire late last month from web forum discussions and social media posts uncovering brand profiles fabricated by the company and deceptive marketing that commenters and lawyers say misled customers about the origins of specific salmon and chicken products, including some food labeled antibiotic- and hormone-free.

The WeChat account Thundersharkz posted an article under the headline "Something Smells Fishy… Sharkz Dive Deep to Investigate." In it, it cast doubt on Kate & Kimi's salmon supplier Blue Coral Seafood Cooperative (BCSC), unveiling a fictitious company back story. The article, citing images no longer on the website but saved in screen captures, traced photos of the three company founders posted on the BCSC website to three irrelevant individuals.

As of September 11 the article had received 2,537 hits and was reposted by numerous users. Though the author gave his real name to the Global Times, he requested that we refer to him as Sharklock Holmes.

Something fishy

Holmes said he loves to cook at home, which is how he's familiar with the online grocery options in Shanghai. He regularly makes purchases from different online retailers.

"I know several 'foodies' and people that work in the food and beverage industry. They were the first people to tell me that I should check out the BCSC website (http://www.bluecoralcoop.com/)," Holmes told the Global Times.

He said he found the site "ludicrous but, at the same time, thoroughly intriguing," so he kept digging. "Every single thing on the site appeared to be part of an elaborate lie. At that point, I merely found it amusing and I discussed it freely with friends around the city," Holmes said.

On August 25, an anonymous user posted a thread on the Shanghai Expat forum, noting the same.

Dozens of users posted reply comments, some questioning the quality of Kate & Kimi's products while others voiced support for the online store.

When the Global Times visited the BCSC website on August 29, the photos of the three founders were gone. The newspaper viewed the image that Holmes supplied and had posted as a screenshot of the BCSC website depicting the photos of the three men. (pictured below)

The image that Holmes supplied and had posted as a screenshot of the BCSC website Photo: Courtesy of Sharklock Holmes



"From when I first saw it, a month or so ago until the day the post was made public, the site remained unchanged," Holmes said.

Holmes said he then did extensive Google searches about the brand name and the three founders. He said he found no online presence or references for the company, which claimed to have 30 years of history.

Then, through standard Google image searches for each photo of the three founders, Holmes said he found the actual identities of all.

One, of the company founder displayed in the center, was Professor Tore Lindholm from the University of Oslo. The BCSC web page identified him as a fisherman and one of the founders of the brand.

The Global Times contacted Lindholm asking if he had ever worked on salmon farming, and sent him the screenshot along with Holmes' article.

Lindholm said he loves well-cooked salmon, but he has never worked in the salmon business.

"Thanks for the surprising submission, below. Sure, I was never engaged in salmon cultivation or in other salmon business activities," he replied.

Introduced by consultants?

Consumers then raised questions about whether BCSC actually exists, the origins of BCSC salmon and who works with Kate & Kimi on salmon sourcing.

Kate & Kimi acted fast. It published an announcement disclosing the suppliers of its salmon and its chicken products.

According to the statement, the salmon was from a Chinese supplier named Qinghai minze Longyangxia Ecological Water Reproductive Co. Ltd. The statement says the fish was raised in ponds in Qinghai and shipped to Shanghai. Regarding BCSC, Kate & Kimi said that it was its own brand that it created under advisement of its consultants.

"Blue Coral Seafood Cooperative is a new brand owned by Kate & Kimi. We have been meeting with many experts in the last year to get a full education on Fish & Seafood. And our efforts have paid off! We have been introduced us to salmon farms in China, the largest importers of European Fish into China and some fantastic seafood processors. Some of our experts insisted that we needed a unique brand and a website to describe the brand," the online grocery wrote.

A statement on Kate & Kimi's website viewed on September 11 said the online attacks were due to them "linking prematurely to an incomplete BCSC website (yes, now it has been completed, although frankly it is not very beautiful)."

The Global Times wrote an email to Kate & Kimi on August 29, seeking an explanation of the issue and contact information for the experts.

Richard Gelber, the owner of Kate & Kimi replied:

"We have OUR consultants who have introduced us to Shenghua and MANY other chicken suppliers.

We have OUR consultants who have introduced us to Qinghai salmon and multiple other sources of imported fish.

We ALSO have experts in Beef who are introducing us to the largest Beef importers to china.

We are NOT professionals on chicken, fish, seafood, beef and we MUST work with experts in order to guarantee to our clients the best quality."

Gelber refused a request by Global Times for contact information for the consultants.

The chicken brand

Early on August 6, Kate & Kimi introduced its brand Cloverdale chicken on its Facebook account.

A screenshot of Kate & Kimi's website taken August 29 shows an ad stating that Cloverdale chicken is "a Canada based, family owned, 100% antibiotic-free and hormone-free poultry producer. Cloverdale launched its first China project in order to guarantee a Farm-to Table healthy living experience." (pictured below)

A screenshot of Kate & Kimi's website taken August 29 Photo: Yang Lan/GT



 Similarly, Holmes and Shanghai Expat forum users questioned Cloverdale's authenticity.

In its announcement, Kate & Kimi provided certificates for the Cloverdale chicken, which actually certify a farm called Shanghai Shenghua.

Kate & Kimi admitted in its announcement that the brand is also one of its creations.

"Once again, we work with experts and a large poultry farm owned by Shenghua chicken. While Shenghua chicken has a brand, after discussing with out (sic) internal focus groups, we felt that the brand was not Western and considering all the time and effort we spent in order to research this poultry farm, a decison (sic) was made to start a new brand that would be EXCLUSIVE to Kate and Kimi."

Responding to a question about why the company promoted the Chinese-raised chicken as a Canadian brand, Gelber wrote to the Global Times: "We MUST have brands. Shenghua Chicken brand is not professional looking and not to be trusted due to issues they had 2 years ago with FDA - yes they solved their issues BUT we need to build trust for a new brand."

China's Food and Drug Administration announced on February 24 that it had found excessive Sulfonamides, an antimicrobial veterinary drug, in chicken from Shanghai Shenghua.

Online groceries are becoming popular among the expats in Shanghai. Photo: CFP



False advertising

Gordon Dou is a lawyer at Shanghai Zinger Law. "Although retailers can source products and then rebrand them, giving a locally produced product a foreign brand and a foreign producer is illegal, and it was false advertising," Dou said. "If there is still false content on the website, consumers could complain to the local administration of industry and commerce. The retailer will be fined and obliged to change the content."

However, Kate & Kimi changed the text and design of the Cloverdale and BCSC marketing. Now, BCSC and Cloverdale are introduced as the brands of Kate & Kimi.

"Since the store has changed its brand introductions, they have corrected their content; it is pointless complaining to the authorities anymore. If a customer bought a huge amount of these products during the false-advertising period and still keeps the screenshots of the false content, he or she could still complain," Dou said.

"This kind of misleading advertising is quite common in China, and the main reason is to promote sales," Dou said. "Consumers could report this kind of conduct and receive compensation from them."

Chen Jiajin, a lawyer from Hubei Zhong He Xin Law Firm, agreed.

"The store can be suspected of defrauding consumers by saying its brand is from a foreign country," Chen said. "If consumers cannot prove fraud, according to Chinese civil law, there is a serious misunderstanding between the retailer and the consumers. Consumers could ask for the discharge of contract."

 Holmes, the writer of the WeChat post, said that individuals should speak out about dishonest or corrupt business practices.

"The reason that brands exist is so that there is accountability," he said. Citing Cloverdale, Blue Coral and others, he added, "there is no way to check to see if their claims are true because they are completely invented: they don't exist online, they aren't registered companies, there is no information about any of their employees anywhere. There is no way to check or know where these products are coming from because they are not real brands.

"Of course people would prefer to buy products from a small, local, organic seller as opposed to a large-scale corporate operation, but that doesn't give you permission to rebrand merchandise in any way that you see fit," Holmes said. "Expats, in particular, shop with brands like Kate & Kimi because they have more faith in their supply chain than large corporate brands… It turns out that we were getting the same thing all along."
Newspaper headline: A fish story


Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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