Consumers wary after soya milk slip

Amid a consumer backlash, bakery chain BreadTalk has come out to defend the freshness of its main products: bread, buns and cakes.

After news broke on earlier this week that the 46-outlet chain's "freshly prepared" soya drink was actually Yeo's brand soya bean milk repackaged into bottles, consumers slammed the company online, with many questioning the freshness of its other products.

"We want customers to know that all our buns and breads are freshly baked at each outlet," said Joyce Koh, BreadTalk Group's senior vice-president of brand development yesterday.

"Cakes and larger loaves of bread are baked at our central kitchen daily and transported to outlets."

She added that buns and bread unsold at the end of the day are discounted to speed up sales. Leftover buns are distributed to staff.

"We don't sell it the next day," she said, adding that juices are freshly squeezed at outlets or at the firm's Upper Paya Lebar central kitchen.

BreadTalk's actions came to light after a photograph showing a staff member filling up plastic bottles with Yeo's soya bean milk went viral.

BreadTalk pulled the bottled drink off its shelves the same day, and on Tuesday apologised to customers on its Facebook page "for any misaligned presentation or wrong impressions created".

Communications experts agreed that admitting the mistake was a good move, but it will take some effort to regain consumers' trust.

Veteran public-relations practitioner Cho Pei Lin said: "Admitting that they did pour Yeo's soya milk into bottles is the best they can do. It is better than denying they did it, or clamming up.

"But what they did was so wrong that even being honest may not be enough of an apology to customers who faithfully bought their products thinking they were freshly prepared," the managing director of media agency Asia PR Werkz added. "Customers feel cheated and betrayed by a trusted brand."

Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing at Singapore Management University's business school, agreed that apologising right away was a good move, but added that the wording of the apology was important.

"The words 'misaligned presentation' is public-relations speak and is a very awkward way of phrasing what people thought of as clear deception," he said.

He suggested a discounted offering for a week or two, and displaying the apology as a poster in outlets for a few days.

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