Why A Starbucks Giveaway In South Korea Caused Major Concern

In a recent article, The Korea Economic Daily traces some of the history of Starbucks in South Korea. Noting Starbucks as a leader in the South Korean coffee market, KED explains that the last year has been a tough one for the chain in South Korea, following major investments by E-mart and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation in July 2021. Customer complaints followed, both about the company's marketing and the taste of the coffee. A disastrous recall of improperly manufactured paper straws further damaged Starbucks' reputation in South Korea, as did controversy over a newly introduced chicken sandwich.

Starbucks is a big brand in South Korea, and Seoul is home to one of the most over-the-top locations for the coffee franchise. Despite the launch of collaborative merchandise with the tech giant Samsung, Starbucks has hit another snag in South Korea. Last week marked the newest development in Starbucks' difficulties, this time over a popular giveaway designed to increase brand loyalty.

A customer reported a dangerous defect in the Summer Carry Bag

The Korea Times reports that a Starbucks customer who claims to be employed by the FITI Testing and Research Institute anonymously posted on social media that the Summer Carry Bag was tested and determined to contain formaldehyde, a dangerous carcinogen. KED explained the Starbucks promotion said that customers who purchased 17 eligible beverages could collect a free Summer Carry Bag.

While FITI has made it clear that the anonymous post isn't an official position on the matter, Starbucks is having tests run independently and expects to have results back in about a week. In the meantime, customers who wish to return the Summer Carry Bag can do so and will receive three coupons they can redeem for complimentary beverages. KED notes this is a serious PR challenge to Starbucks and reports that an industry insider carefully following the controversy said, "How the company picks up the pieces from the latest controversy will be the litmus test for the Starbucks [Korea] brand as a whole."