Gardenia bread has been a part of Malaysian morning routine for the past 26 years. Even though the older generation may still prefer unbranded freshly baked loaves, Gardenia is the equivalent to bread in our minds.
The company (mostly owned by Padi Beras Nasional Bhd or Bernas) is alleged to have boycotted its flour supplier Federal Flour Mills Bhd (FFM). The problem might be as simple as economic matter concerning supply and demand – but in desperation and financially hard times like this, it has been turned into something much bigger: racial issues.
Gardenia came up with an advertorial in a national newspaper stating this: We buy flour from Malayan Flour Mills Bhd and Prestasi Flour Mills Sdn Bhd purely due to commercial reasons. In fact, Bernas has a stake in Y flour mill and yet we have never been directed or coerced to buy flour from it. This speaks volumes on (sic) the professionalism of the Bernas management.” The advertorial was then demanded to be pulled back.
Bernas is owned by Tan Sri Syed Mohktar Al-Bukhary, while FFM is controlled by Hong Kong-based Malaysian tycoon Tan Sri Robert Kuok. With the nature of racially-sensitive Malaysian society, it was as easy as ABC to believe that Gardenia ditched FFM because it is a company of different race.
Soon after, an online boycott campaign against Gardenia spread through mass emails and Facebook posts. The campaign urges Malaysians to switch to Massimo, a bread brand by FFM that is priced lower than Gardenia. FFM has since clarified that it has never started any boycotting campaigns against Gardenia, as quoted by MY Sinchew. Until today, it is still unclear of who initiated the one-month-old boycott.
One part of the mass email thread is as quoted by Asia One: “Let’s support the new Massimo bread by Robert Kuok and boycott Gardenia bread owned by Umno crony, Syed Mokhtar Albukhary’s Tradewind group.”
The Malaysian Insider quoted the prices as such: Massimo currently offers a normal-sized wheat germ loaf and a longer white loaf at RM2.50 and RM3.40 while Gardenia’s equivalents are priced at RM3.20 and RM3.35 respectively. Both brands sell a normal white loaf at RM2.40.
On the other side, Gardenia denies any allegations by FFM, stating they stopped buying from FFM simply because of pricing reasons. Furthermore, they believed to have been ‘everything a good Malaysian company should be’ with its CSR and race-blind policy.
The campaign evidently has been gaining buzz, seeing from the active online discussion in Lowyat.net participated by many. This whole array of dispute shows how a country with an apparent scar (in Malaysian case, the scar is racial issues) is easily cut open and salted by irresponsible provocateurs.