BreadTalk has stopped selling its "freshly prepared" soya bean milk after a photograph showing a staff member filling up plastic bottles with Yeo's brand soya bean milk made its rounds on the Internet.
When contacted by The Straits Times yesterday, the confectionery chain admitted it buys the drink in one-litre packets from beverage giant Yeo Hiap Seng in bulk, repackages it into bottles with the words "freshly prepared" on them, seals the bottles, and then sells them.
The photograph was posted on online site Redwire Times on Monday evening. The netizen, who posted it under the handle Kev, called the discovery "shocking".
"This 'freshly prepared' soya bean milk from BreadTalk always tasted very familiar, but somehow I couldn't figure out why until now.
"You see for yourself why. This BreadTalk staff is just pouring Yeo's soya bean milk into bottles of 'freshly prepared' soya bean sold by BreadTalk," he said.
Ms Joyce Koh, the 46-outlet BreadTalk Group's senior vice-president of brand development, admitted the soya bean milk was "completely Yeo's". The problem, she said, arose after the chain used the same type of bottles it used to package fresh juice for sale for the soya bean milk. These bottles had the words "freshly prepared" on them.
"Yeo's is a third-party vendor. They supply to a lot of commercial eateries, including us," said Ms Koh, adding that BreadTalk stopped selling the drink on Monday when the post started to circulate.
She said: "We would like to apologise for any misaligned presentation or wrong impressions created, and clarify that it was never our intention to mislead. We do need to improve."
BreadTalk apologised to customers on its Facebook page. The chain will be serving the soya bean milk out of labelled drink dispensers from now on "to prevent any misunderstanding", said Ms Koh. She added that 22 outlets already sold the drink via dispensing machines.
When contacted, Yeo Hiap Seng declined to comment.
But the apology did little to quell criticism from customers. BreadTalk's explanation on its Facebook page pulled more than 300 comments, most of them slamming the company.
Some also posted allegations that they were told the milk was "fresh" when they asked staff.
Lawyer Ranjan Indiran, 34, who buys the drink occasionally, told The Straits Times: "The fact that they were in unmarked bottles with the words 'freshly prepared' on them gave me the impression that the drink was brewed in-house. The heftier price compared to Yeo's drink also made me think it was freshly brewed."
BreadTalk sold the 350ml bottles for $1.80 each. Yeo's soya bean milk is sold at FairPrice for $1.50 for a one-litre carton.
The executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore, Mr Seah Seng Choon, described BreadTalk's action as "improper and misleading".
"Consumers would assume that freshly prepared means that the soya milk was brewed in-house. But we are glad that BreadTalk admitted to using packaged drinks and removed it from their stores," he said.
Singapore Polytechnic senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim said it was common for eateries to buy food in bulk and repackage it for sale, especially in the current labour crunch, but that most would not label the items as "freshly prepared".
"I suppose that the retailer could argue that the soya milk is freshly prepared, but not by them. But consumers will definitely have the perception that it was brewed that day," she said. "It is very misleading."
A picture of a staff member icing a Bengawan Solo layered cake at an Icing Room store, which also comes under BreadTalk, was also posted yesterday. It led some to ask if the under-fire bakery was also using cakes from rival bakeries.
Insisting that this was the wrong impression, Ms Koh said: "A staff member brought in the cake on her own accord to be decorated by a colleague. This is not allowed, and staff will be reminded of that."