Since the beginning of June, the discovery of meleic acid in some Taiwanese in domestic and exported starch products has seen three of the country’s biggest food manufacturers, including A.G.V. Products and Uni-President, remove a number of their product lines from the shelves of supermarkets for almost a month.
“We took down our bestselling pudding after the investigators suspected the safety of its ingredients in early June,” said Shiou-Tzu Chang of Uni-President. “We had to conduct thorough testing of all the ingredients before putting them back on the shelves almost a month later.”
Chang added that while temporarily taking down its signature products certainly damages customers’ trusts in Uni-President, they devote most of their resources to marketing once they have assured the safety of suspected products.
“We try to assure customers of the safety of our products through different marketing strategies and platforms,” said Chang. “We feel comfortable sharing the results with our customers because there’s nothing to hide.”
While chain stores have more resources to deal with problematic products, vendors in traditional and night markets have been hit hard by the scare because they only sell one or two kinds of snacks or beverages. For many stall owners like Jie Wang, a beverage vendor at Taichung’s popular shopping district, their businesses are at risk as customers are suspicious about the ingredients of their products.
“We lost 70% of our customers for drinks with tapioca balls when the news broke out,” said Wang. “The recovery is slow because people often choose to believe what they see on the television.”
Unlike chain stores, smaller vendors lack the financial and human resources to manoeuvre their way through this crisis. Wang estimates that it will take another six months for her business to be back on track when people gradually forget about the food scare.
“In the meantime, the negative impact of the food scare will remain,” she said. “We will have to wait until the media moves on to another issue, so people will gradually forget about what happened.”
The Taiwanese parliament revised the food safety law in late May, adding a new clause to impose a maximum of life imprisonment and a fine up to NT$20m on violators of the revised law. Chang believes that this is the government’s first step to regain Taiwan’s culinary reputation.
“The government should rely on stricter laws to govern food safety issues,” said Chang. “Business owners will follow the revised laws and reestablish Taiwan’s name as a destination of cuisine for visitors.”