FOOD SAFETY

Power of turtle jelly lies in its recipe: Hoi Tin Tong founder

Beleaguered herbal chain founder defends his product against survey which showed almost no turtle shell in samples from his company

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 September, 2013, 2:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 12:11pm

The most effective turtle jelly is made from a good mix of turtle shell and herbs, rather than from a large quantity of turtle shell, says the founder of beleaguered herbal chain Hoi Tin Tong.

Ng Yiu-ming's business is facing a crisis after its former advertising agent claimed the chain sold jelly that had gone mouldy, and a separate university study revealed the product contained almost no turtle shell.

Rejecting both accusations, Ng, 61, said his company's jelly contained more than two types of turtle. The product is a traditional health food believed to be effective in lowering cholesterol levels and improving complexions.

"We use fresh turtle for production and boil the whole turtle, including its shell and belly, with herbs," said Ng, who has appeared in the chain's television adverts for more than a decade.

It was a good formula, rather than the amount of turtle shell, that made the best jelly, he said.

The study conducted by Cheung Hon-yeung, an associate professor in City University's biology and chemistry department, found no turtle-shell collagen in three out of four Hoi Tin Tong samples, bought on the mainland and in Hong Kong two months ago.

The manager of the chain earlier said the company harvested 300kg of turtle shell and meat each day to make more than 20,000 cups of turtle jelly.

Ng said the lack of collagen in the end-product could be the result of prolonged boiling.

He said he had not studied consumer protection laws, which forbid misleading product descriptions, but that if the lack of collagen in his company's turtle jelly constituted a criminal offence, he would have no choice but to bear the responsibility.

But he was adamant that the video recently released by his former employee Choi Kwok-leung, purporting to show a staff member cleaning the mould off turtle jelly and selling it as fresh, was staged.

He said it was all part of Choi's smear campaign against Hoi Tin Tong. It was understood Choi wanted the chain to buy shares in his mainland company, Wai Yuen Tong, which sells turtle jelly across the border.

The Hong Kong herbal chain Wai Yuen Tong has denied any link to Choi and his mainland company, pointing out that its brand name was being misused.

For days after the video went viral, Hoi Tin Tong's telephone lines were jammed by calls for refunds over prepaid coupons. Ng would not say how many coupons were involved or how bad business was, but said he would try his best to ensure none of his 200 employees lose their jobs.

He said he faced a lot of pressure in public now because his frequent appearance on television adverts made him easily recognisable. He did not enjoy being in the limelight and had yet to decide if he would appear in future adverts, he said.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man yesterday said the Centre for Food Safety found no mould in jelly samples it took from Hoi Tin Tong outlets. Bacteria levels in the jelly also did not exceed legal limits, he said.