Tofu McNuggets? McDonald’s Japan launches new snack amid expired meat scare.

McDonald's Japan will begin selling Tofu Shinjo Nuggets Wednesday in the company's Japanese locations. The tofu nuggets release could be a welcome bright spot for McDonald's Japan as it deals with poor sales and the fallout from a scandal involving one of its major Chinese meat suppliers. 

McDonald’s Japan is following an old, lesser-known saying: When life gives you bad meat, make tofu nuggets.

The Japanese division of the world’s largest burger chain introduced a new nugget snack this week: Tofu Shinjo Nuggets, made up of tofu and vegetables in Shinjo, a dumpling-like food made up of fish paste and starch. The tofu nuggets will hit Japanese locations Wednesday.

“The new nuggets do not include any chicken,” but are made from ingredients that include onions, soybeans, carrots and minced fish, a spokeswoman at McDonald’s Japan told the Wall Street Journal. "Because it isn’t meat, it tastes a bit different. It’s a bit softer. Calorie-wise, it is a bit lower than chicken as well.”

Four pieces will cost 249 yen, or about $2.44 US.

The tofu nugget launch could be a welcome bit of good news for McDonald’s in Asia. The company has been rocked over the past few weeks by revelations that one of its main meat suppliers in China was selling expired meat with falsified labels (the company, Shanghai Husi Food Co Ltd, also supplied products to Starbucks, Burger King, KFC, and Papa John’s). 

The news prompted a widespread recall, and Chinese health officials arrested five Shanghai Husi Food Co. employees and shut down nearly 600 restaurants in response.

McDonald’s Japan CEO Sarah Casanova announced Tuesday that the division would be discontinuing its relationship with the meat company. Earlier, McDonald’s Japan halted sales of products containing China-produced chicken, including Chicken McNuggets and the Chicken Filet-O sandwich, and announced that it would begin sourcing its chicken products from Thailand instead of China.

“I would like to extend my sincere apology to our valued customers,” Ms. Casanova said at a Tuesday news conference.

McDonald’s Japan also withdrew its earnings guidance (or forecast) for the year Tuesday, saying that it was unclear just how much dealing with the fallout from the meat scare would impact revenues. The withdrawal capped off two straight years of falling sales for McDonald’s Japan. For the first six months of the year, the division reported a 50 percent drop in operating profit to 3.5 billion yen and a 59 percent drop in net profit, to 1.85 billion yen.

However fortuitous, the company says the timing of the Tofu Shinjo Nugget release is purely coincidental. Still, it could be a bright spot for McDonald’s beleaguered Asia operations. Other fast food chains, including Subway, have found success with a more vegetable-centric product focus in Japan. Tofu nuggets won’t hit the US anytime soon, but vegetarians in a hurry still have Burger King’s veggie burger to tide them over. 

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