US coffee chain Starbucks said on Monday it had shut two outlets in China and was conducting an investigation after a state-backed newspaper reported that they used expired ingredients to make drinks, violating food safety rules.
The Beijing News newspaper, in what it described as an undercover investigation, said the incidents occurred at two stores in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi.
"We take what was reported by local media very seriously, and have immediately closed the two stores in question to conduct a thorough investigation," a Starbucks spokesperson said.
"Since entering the Chinese mainland market 22 years ago, we have been committed to implementing strict food safety standards and adopt a 'zero tolerance' policy towards food safety issues. We welcome the continued supervision of members of the media and the public."
The company did not comment on the specifics of the report. The newspaper later said that local Wuxi authorities were probing the stores.
The incident became a trending topic on China's Twitter-like Weibo social media site after the report was published.
Chinese consumers and media have become more aggressive about protecting customer rights and monitoring the behaviour of big brands, especially from overseas.
Some targets, such as Canadian winterwear brand Canada Goose which drew complaints over its refund policies, have been subjected to government reprimands, while Chinese brands such as milk tea chain Nayuki have also drawn public attention.
China is the largest market for Starbucks outside the United States with 5,360 stores as of 3 October, the firm's latest earnings report showed.
The Beijing News report said one of the Starbucks stores used expired matcha liquid to make lattes, while another had put pastries up for sale that were meant to be thrown away.
As of Monday afternoon, the topic of Starbucks' response to the Beijing News report had received more than 50 million views on Weibo. Commenters expressed both disappointment and worries over more widespread problems.
"If Starbucks is like this, the other shops really worry me," said one Weibo user named Revario. "They suffer the scrutiny because it is a foreign brand."