Channel NewsAsia

Slower sales for Chinese New Year goodies, Chinatown retailers say

Ahead of Chinese New Year, retailers selling festive goodies are seeing slower sales from a year ago. However demand for hotel and restaurant bookings have been consistent.

SINGAPORE: Food takes centrestage during Chinese New Year, like most festive celebrations. But in the lead up to the occasion this year, retailers selling festive goodies say business is more lacklustre compared to 2015.

Family-run bak kwa (sliced barbecued pork) stall Bee Kim Heng has seen festive retail sales drop by 10 to 20 per cent compared to last year. Based at People’s Park Food Centre, Bee Kim Heng – which is run by Mr Teo Ah Thin, 81 – has been in operation for almost 50 years.

“We suspect it’s the economy, (it’s) because of the retrenchments that are going around in the market,” said Mr Damien Teo, who helps his father out during busy periods like Chinese New Year.


Bak kwa, or sliced barbecued pork, being grilled at Bee Kim Heng. (Photo: Linette Lim)

Mr Teo, who is in his 30s, added: “A lot of our business is very dependent on regular customers. Some of the regular customers, for example – in the year before, they’d buy 3kg, maybe 5kg. This year, some of them have cut down in terms of the quantity they buy. They just want to save up a bit, I guess.”

Similarly, fruit and nut supplier Tian Ran has experienced a 30 per cent drop in sales for the festive period. “A lot of people are browsing and tasting, but fewer are buying. I think it’s due to the bad economic situation,” said a Tian Ran employee, who only wanted to be known as Mr Fang.

Mr Fang has been selling peanuts and melon seeds – traditional Chinese New Year snacks – for the past eight years. While this year’s takings are poorer than last year, the 40 year-old said he feels things are not as bad as in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.


Festive goodies, like melon seeds and peanuts, on display in Chinatown. (Photo: Linette Lim)

Less than a few hundred metres away, in the annual Chinatown Festive Street Bazaar, employees running a temporary waxed meat stall also opined that buying sentiment is poor.

“We’re mainly in distribution, but we have set up a stall at this bazaar for many years. This year, sales are down about 30 per cent,” said a stall employee, who only gave his name as Mr Liang.

The 56-year-old who has been in the business for 30 years, believes that shoppers have held back due to the rainy weather, and a poorer economic climate.


A customer buying waxed meat - a Chinese New Year staple - at the Festive Street Bazaar in Chinatown. (Photo: Linette Lim)

A MIXED PICTURE, OVERALL?

Outside of the Chinatown area – the epicentre of Chinese New Year shopping – other consumer businesses appear to be faring a little better.

For example, Paradise Group, which will have over 20 restaurants in operation on the first and second day of the Chinese New Year period, told Channel NewsAsia these restaurants are already 80 to 90 per cent booked for the first day.

Hotel Fort Canning also expects to “sell-out for the season”, as it caters to both foreign visitors and local staycationers. In an email reply, a hotel spokesperson said: “Demand for our rooms are typically higher during this extended period of festivities and the hotel usually runs at full capacity.”

Meanwhile, online travel agency ZUJI has recorded a 17 per cent year-on-year increase in staycation hotel bookings during the Chinese New Year period, with an average spend of S$190 to S$220 per night.

“We’re also seeing more 4-star hotels being booked on ZUJI this year, as compared to last year which had an almost even split of both 4 and 5-stars bookings. This could possibly be due to Singapore travellers being more budget conscious,” said Ms Chua Hui Wan, CEO of ZUJI Singapore.