Embattled herbal-food chain Hoi Tin Tong says it handed out 100,000 pots of free herbal turtle jelly at its stores yesterday as it attempted to rebuild its reputation following a series of controversies.
The stunt follows accusations last year that the company was scraping mould off jelly and selling it as fresh, and that its turtle jelly contained very little turtle shell - a key ingredient in the dessert dish, which is thought to reduce cholesterol and remove toxins from the body.
A City University study of samples of Hoi Tin Tong jelly last year found little-to-no collagen from turtle shell.
But jelly lovers, eager for a free fix of a product that usually sells for HK$35, did not seem to mind. One Wan Chai store handed out more than 1,400 pots within 90 minutes of opening yesterday. "As long as the stuff doesn't kill you it's fine. If there really isn't turtle in the turtle jelly then it'll be like eating [grass jelly]," said one elderly shopper, who had been waiting in the queue for 10 minutes. Grass jelly is a similar herbal dessert.
Crowds began lining up as early as 11am, an hour before the event's scheduled opening time. Staff started giving out freebies half an hour before the opening time and by noon a 100-metre queue had formed on O'Brien Street.
"We're handing them out free as a public gesture and to dispel the recent accusations," said one staff member, who did not elaborate.
Police arrived to control the crowd, which had almost completely blocked the pedestrian walkway.
All two-dozen boxes of jelly allocated for the handout were scooped up within 45 minutes and staff had no choice but to open more. By 1pm, even the extra boxes had gone, leaving regular customers disappointed seven hours before the event was due to end.
Despite rumours he would visit the Wan Chai store, Hoi Tin Tong founder Ng Yiu-ming did not turn up.
He has repeatedly claimed that reports of problems with the jelly are an attempt to smear his company.
The company could not be reached for comment yesterday.