The Chinese government has a message for a popular food chain close to the heart of many Americans - stop wasting food by ordering too many meal toys.

On Wednesday, the China Consumers Association (CCA), a top consumer group in the country, accused Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) of promoting food waste by promoting a new meal toy box that is in celebration of the chain’s 35-year history of operating in China. In a statement, the association said KFC "aroused consumers' panic buying and widespread social concern".

The product at the center of the controversy is a mystery box meal that randomly carries limited-edition versions of large-eyed and round-faced Dimoo dolls, created by Chinese toymaker Pop Mart. In one particular episode that drew ire from the CCA, a set of customers spent over 10,494 yuan ($1,650) on 106 meals with the intent of collecting every one of the dolls being offered.

By continuing to encourage mass consumption of its products for the sake of getting a toy more than the meal itself, the CCA says that KFC, uses its limited-edition blind box sales to “induce and condone consumers’ irrational and excessive purchase of food packages”, which is “contrary to public order, good customs and the spirit of the law.”

Neither KFC nor its parent company Yum Foods has yet commented on this controversy, but the CCA’s lambasting comes at a time when Beijing is aiming to cut down on the amount of wasted food in the country.

Last year, the Chinese government unveiled an "action plan" encouraging people not to order more food than they need, and to report restaurants that waste supplies. In 2020, President Xi Jinping called the amount of food wasted "shocking and distressing" as the government moved to encourage less wasteful behavior.

In an editorial, ChinaNews.com, the country's second-largest state-owned news agency, KFC was called "brainless" and went beyond marketing with its promotion event.

"There is nothing wrong with business marketing," it wrote. But "when planning marketing strategies, catering operators should avoid possible waste."

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