China Tourist

Snack attack

Disney hit by Shanghai lawsuit over its ban on bringing food into its park


Food fight at Shanghai Disneyland

KFC and McDonald’s offerings in China can be vastly different from their menus elsewhere in the world (see WiC462 for more on KFC’s success selling late-night offal). But while foreign brands are keen to cater to local tastes in China, they also need to be cautious to avoid accusations of double standards by the nation’s hyper-sensitive consumers.

Walt Disney is the latest multinational to fall into this trap – and not for the first time.

In June last year, the American firm was taken to a local court by an irate father, after his 10 year-old son was denied entry into Disney’s Shanghai theme park because the boy was too tall to qualify for a child pass (see WiC415). Elsewhere, including in Hong Kong, the child discount is decided by age, not height. Eventually, the Chinese court ruled in favour of Disney but the American firm was sued again this month – again in Shanghai – for applying another different standard. This time round the controversy arose after a law school student surnamed Wang and her friends were stopped from entering Shanghai Disneyland because they were carrying snacks in their bags. Their request for a refund was rejected and they ended up dumping the food before entering the park (the incident happened in January).

The China Youth Daily reported the items were worth less than Rmb50 ($7) but that the snacks still ran against Disney’s rules, which ban “food, alcoholic beverages, and non-alcoholic beverages with volumes larger than 600 millilitres”.

To enforce the regulations Disney requires all visitors to open their bags for a check by security staff before entry. And to the chagrin of many visitors in China, the food bans only apply in Asia. Food purchased outside the Magic Kingdom can enter the two Disney parks in the US and at Disneyland Paris, for instance.

Wang then filed a lawsuit in Shanghai in March demanding the food ban be overturned and that her loss be compensated. A hearing was held in April but the verdict is still pending, China Youth Daily said.

Chinese media has been giving the case extensive coverage, the more so as the Sino-US trade and tech rows heated up further this month (see page 1). State-run outlets ran prominent reports and news of the lawsuit was one of the top trending topics across social media.

Citing various legal experts, the People’s Daily weighed in, saying that Disney’s food ban was a “double standard” and “discriminating against Asian markets”. The newspaper also questioned whether Disney has the legal right to check visitor’s bags. In doing so, it might have infringed visitors’ privacy, the paper claimed.

The China Consumer Association publicly backed Wang, offering the view that Disney was trying to profiteer on its catering services in the Shanghai park. Public resentment then increased last week after another consumer association in Shanghai said that Disney had refused to accept an offer of mediation.

That claim was denied by Disney, which said that it fully respects the legal process – including the opportunity for mediation. In a separate statement, the company explained that its security checks, as well as its food ban, are designed to improve safety and enhance guests’ experience. It noted that most theme parks in China also ban external food. “If visitors bring their own food and beverages, they may enjoy them in the rest area outside the park,” it suggested.

Disney’s supporters have also argued the ban is to stop visitors littering the park with packaging and indulging in other ‘uncivilised behaviour’. But online comments have been largely negative – with many complaining that the price of food inside the park – which opened in June 2016 (see WiC329) – is unreasonably high. A popular meme offered this advice to the dissatisfied: “Just stop visiting Disneyland”.

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