Scandal-hit herbal chain Hoi Tin Tong may scale back business

Hoi Tin Tong founder laments poor sales even as tests he commissioned produce positive results

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 8:12am

Beleaguered herbal chain Hoi Tin Tong may scale back business, its founder says, weeks after twin scandals hit the company last month, when it was accused of selling mouldy jelly and jelly with almost no turtle shell.

"I have to see how fast [the business] recovers," said founder Ng Yiu-ming, without revealing how badly the scandals had affected business in his 81 outlets. "If it's slow, then for sure we have to lose some weight to strengthen competitiveness … Our employees are good; I really don't want to have to let them go."

City University's [study] is so lame - only several samples were tested
Jimmy Tao Wai-leung, Vitargent

Last month, a video purportedly showing a Hoi Tin Tong staff cleaning mould off jelly before selling it as fresh went viral.

Then, a separate study by Cheung Hon-yeung, an associate professor in City University's biology and chemistry department, found no turtle-shell collagen in three of four Hoi Tin Tong samples bought on the mainland and in Hong Kong two months ago. The amount of collagen in the positive sample was estimated to be 1,000 times less than the amount in other brands.

Ng earlier said the video was part of his former employee Choi Kwok-leung's smear campaign against his company. A Centre for Food Safety spokesman said it had not tested any jelly after it found no mould in samples it took from Hoi Tin Tong outlets in mid-September.

Yesterday, a biotechnology company commissioned by Ng to conduct tests to prove his jelly contained turtle, argued that Cheung's study was "not well-rounded".

"City University's [study] is so lame - only several samples were tested," said Vitargent (International) Biotechnology managing director Jimmy Tao Wai-leung, adding that Cheung's study had neither conducted negative controls nor used ISO reference standards in the laboratory.

The company acquired and tested 187 samples from different stages of production and end-products from 60 outlets, using polymerase chain reaction to test if the jelly contained turtle DNA. Tao said all results were positive.

Ng said he would submit Vitargent's test results to the customs department soon.

Responding to Ng's tests, Cheung said: "I've done 14 years of capillary electrophoresis research. Many of my research papers have been published in world-class journals and none of them have been challenged in terms of accuracy."

On the number of samples he acquired, Cheung said: "All tests use random sampling. The test can only show whether there are traces of turtle in the samples, but cannot show the quantity of it.

"I pay detailed attention to the conditions in my laboratory, too. Not just myself, my research assistants and students do so too," he said.

A customs spokesman said the department had obtained samples for testing and was waiting for the results to see if Hoi Tin Tong had breached the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.