New Year’s food blunder becomes nationwide scandal

A image from of the actual BirdCafe New Year's delivery. photo credit to bm.iphone/Flickr.

Holidays and food go hand in hand — turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, barbeque on the Fourth of July.  In Japan, no holiday meal is as meaningful as the New Year’s osechi feast — layers of boxes packed with a variety of goodies, enabling households to avoid cooking responsibilties for several days into the new year.

Osechi is serious business. Moms spend days constructing elaborate meals, or shell out major bucks for delicious and beautifully arranged food.  So imagine the excitement 500 Tokyo-ites must have felt when they were able to buy a lavish osechi meal for four from Groupon, the popular group deal site, for half price — the bargain deal of 10,500 yen ($126 at the current rate of exchange).

The box boasted over thirty items — including caviar, smoked salmon, roast beef — and a convenient New Year’s Eve delivery date.  Unfortunately, the ad was too good to be true, and the boxes showed up (many of them late) sparsely filled, haphazardly arranged, and looking (if these photos are representative) kind of gross. Twitter, the blogosphere, and, eventually, the mainstream media erupted  with venom.

By January 2nd, the vendor’s CEO has taken the blame by publicly resigning via blog post, writing that his company essentially didn’t have the capacity or time to put together 500 boxes as advertised. Groupon and Bird Cafe will provide full refunds, and will apologize with 5,000 yen gift certificates for chocolates, flowers, ice cream, or … another Groupon (guessing not too many will choose that last option). Groupon also vows to do more research on companies it partners with and set up a more efficient system for taking customer complaints.

While Groupon has achieved broad success in the United States (it turned down a $6 billion dollar acquisition offer from Google last December), this fiasco could be a huge blow to its success in Japan, where a brand’s image, good or bad, makes a huge impact on consumers and can often be difficult to alter. I’m a Groupon fan myself, but I would also find it tough to buy another after receiving a sloppy, unappetizing meal for an important holiday meal.  I think they’ll have to do some major work to repair their rep — or their customers in Japan will kill them by clicking elsewhere.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal‘s Japan Real Time blog:

After Mochi, Osechi: The First Food Brouhaha of the New Year

What the delivery was advertised to look like. image by Groupon.

About Beth Hillman

Beth Hillman taught English in Japan for four years. She's the co-founder and co-organizer of Joshikai San Francisco, a networking group for women with a connection to Japan.

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  1. […] the Groupon fiasco over New Year that saw the reputation of the foreign daily discounts site plummet (a feat that the U.S. service […]

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