BreadTalk taking 'remedial action'

In a bid to make amends for selling soya bean milk in mislabelled bottles, the BreadTalk bakery chain is giving away 50,000 of its signature pork-floss buns to the public.

The giveaway will take place over three weekends starting Aug 28.

The chain has also donated $50,000 to the Community Chest "as a remedial action".

The bakery chain laid out these commitments in a joint statement issued with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) yesterday, following a meeting called by the latter earlier this month.

BreadTalk has also promised that "it will not engage in unfair practices going forward", signing a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA) to this effect. The VCA will allow Case to apply for a court injunction ordering a stop to any such practice in the future, and non-compliance could result in BreadTalk being held in contempt of court.

On Aug 3, a photograph of a BreadTalk employee pouring a carton of Yeo's soya bean milk into clear 350ml bottles was widely circulated on the Internet.

Each bottle, which carried the label "freshly prepared", was sold for $1.80. A one-litre Yeo's carton costs $1.50 at supermarkets.

Customers were not just irate about the price hike, but also felt misled into thinking the soya milk was made fresh in-house.

In yesterday's statement, the chain said it started selling bottled soya milk last year, but on Aug 4 stopped the use of the mislabelled bottles across its 46 outlets. The chain has recalled all unused bottles. The problem, it said, arose after the same bottles used to package fresh juice for sale were used for soya bean milk.

In an interview with The Straits Times yesterday, BreadTalk Group founder and chairman George Quek said he was shocked when the news of the soya bean saga first broke.

The drink was initially sold in cups from on-site dispensers, but staff started bottling the drink to make it easier for customers to just "take and go", he explained.

"Our team neglected the fact that there was a 'freshly prepared' label on the bottles. I can only say that the incident is due to negligence in our operations. Whether it is right or wrong, I have to be responsible.

"We are not out to deceive... We did not intentionally hide. Our negligence has caused the public's misunderstanding and we are sorry," he added, admitting the chain needed to tighten the way it operates.

Marketing experts had mixed reactions to the chain's latest move.

Dr Ang Swee Hoon, an associate professor of marketing at the National University of Singapore's business school, said: "The good thing is that it is a visible response with Case, a watchdog, so this lends BreadTalk credibility. But this should have been done on day one, not after the issue has blown over.

"Consumers have short memories and this reminds them about the unfortunate incident."

But Singapore Polytechnic senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim disagreed.

"It's a goodwill gesture and people are still talking about the issue," she said, adding that BreadTalk also needed time to come up with a recovery plan. "It's better than letting the incident blow over. It shows sincerity."

Retiree Vincent Ang, 57, who used to buy bread from the chain daily, will continue to stay away.

"Let's put it this way. When a company has been caught with their pants down, they have to make amends," he said, adding that he went out of his way to support the brand for years because it was local. "I've not spent a dime with them since the incident happened."

This article was first published on August 22, 2015.
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