Johor bakeries selling Chinese New Year goodies pivot to online sales amid strong demand from Singapore
With COVID-19 travel restrictions hindering cross-border visits, bakeries in Johor have focused their efforts on making deliveries across the Causeway.
SINGAPORE: For Singaporean engineer Toh Kok Siang, preparation for Chinese New Year is never the same without the annual weekend trip to Johor Bahru with his family to buy cookies and decorative items.
For the last seven years, Mr Toh and his wife would spare a couple of days to drive across the Causeway, buy what they needed for the festivities before returning home.
“Usually we would go to City Square (Mall) and buy all our cookies there. Pineapple tart balls and kueh bangkit are much tastier and cheaper than the ones I’ve tasted from bakeries in Singapore,” said Mr Toh.
However, this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has closed the borders between Singapore and Malaysia for tourist travel.
For Mr Toh and many other Singaporeans who regularly travel across to buy Chinese New Year cookies, they initially thought they had to consider other alternatives.
But to their delight, bakeries in Johor, which have experienced a drop in business since the pandemic, have decided to go online to reach out to their Singaporean customers.
With a movement control order (MCO) reinstated in Malaysia except Sarawak throughout January, these shops have pivoted from opening retail stores to doing online order and delivery, especially for their customers who live in Singapore.
For instance, Mr Toh’s favourite bakery, The Cookies General, is offering 28 different varieties of cookies including pineapple balls, kueh bangkit and love letters.
“Every year we do pop-up at shopping malls in Johor Bahru to sell our cookies, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, we predicted that the sales from retail would drop significantly. Therefore, we decided to export our cookies to Singapore for more opportunities,” Mr Nicholas Han, director for The Cookies General, told CNA.
The Cookies General collaborates with a food trading company based in Singapore to deliver the cookies across the border and to his customers.
“This year, our business model has changed from retail to online business. Most of our customers are able to accept (that we are offering) online purchase rather than physically making purchases at our retail stores,” said Mr Han.
“It is far more convenient and safer in this COVID-19 situation,” he added.
Another Johor-based outlet Liumama bakery told CNA that it has also pivoted to online order from retail pop-up stores.
A Liumama spokesperson who declined to be named said that the bakery charges Singapore customers RM30 (S$9.83) for doorstep delivery services.
The spokesperson added that there have been many orders for its signature cookies like matcha pineapple tarts and cheese kueh bangkit.
“We have changed our strategy to focus our resources on online order because of COVID-19, and a large portion of our orders have come in from Singapore,” said the spokesperson.
READ: Away from their families, Malaysians in Singapore brace themselves for a quiet Chinese New Year
HUGE ORDERS FROM SINGAPORE CUSTOMERS
Although offering online order is a new business strategy for some of these bakeries, many of them noted that this move has paid off.
The Cookies General’s Mr Han said there had been more than 1,500 order enquiries from Singapore since November 2020 through the bakery’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
He added that some of his customers gave feedback that they were pleased they could still make purchases despite the border closure.
“We have some customers (from Singapore) who even bought a few hundred bottles of pineapple balls in a single order,” Mr Han said, adding that they provide free delivery for purchases over a certain amount.
Another store which has also pivoted from retail to online order and delivery is The Sweeties Gift, a bakery which usually opens pop-up stores at Sutera Mall and City Square Mall.
Owner of The Sweeties Gift, Mdm Minnie Yong, told CNA that this year, the store has collaborated with an egg tart wholesaler in Singapore to help transport shipments of Chinese New Year cookies across the Causeway.
“We have loyal customers from Singapore who love our cheese pineapple tarts, kuih kapits, chiku (arrowhead) chips and crispy fried crab sticks. We are exporting 15 different types this year and there has been strong demand for them,” she said.
Mdm Yong said business has been brisk and she has received the same amount of revenue producing less quantity of cookies, after pivoting to online order.
“My Singapore customers told me they would still rather buy my cookies because of the price. My most expensive product is sold at S$12 per bottle, with delivery costs included.
“But they told me that cookies in Singapore are sold for between S$16 and S$24 per bottle. Some of them even recommend that I increase my prices,” she added.
Some entrepreneurial Singaporeans have also identified business opportunities in this situation by reselling the cookies from Johor-based bakeries on online marketplaces.
One of them, who wanted to be known only as Jane, told CNA that she has ordered 60 bottles of cookies from Liumama bakery and is “helping to sell them” on Carousell for S$11 a bottle.
Jane said that she does not work with the bakery and merely wants to help families who want last minute orders for cookies at a reasonable price.
“I earn a little bit from selling this, and I still get large amounts of orders. People come and collect them (from my home) almost every day,” she said.
READ: Malaysia's traders anticipated a sales boom before Chinese New Year, but the MCO has dented their hopes
CHALLENGES ON PRODUCTION AND DELIVERY DUE TO MCO
Although business has been largely good for these bakeries, there are some challenges for them in production and delivery during the MCO in Johor.
The federal government has placed all states in Malaysia, except for Sarawak, under MCO to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Johor has recently reported a spike in cases, and so far, the southern state has recorded more than 17,000 COVID-19 cases.
As part of MCO, some sectors of the economy have been shut and transportation of goods across the Causeway is limited to essential goods.
Mdm Yong, the owner of The Sweeties Gift, said this impacts the quantity of cookies she is able to transport to Singapore.
“There are limited slots for me to transfer my cookies to Singapore. I can only get slots with the company I’m working with on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays,” said Mdm Yong.
“Before MCO, I was able to rely on multiple sources of transport and deliver daily,” she added.
Mdm Yong added that she has difficulties getting raw ingredients to make items like kueh bangkit and prawn rolls.
“In JB, many people are afraid of getting COVID-19, so many things are unavailable,” she said.
She is also unable to employ drivers to deliver the cookies to her customers’ doorsteps.
“The cookies are transported to an office in Toa Payoh and my customers may need to collect them from there. It’s a bit troublesome for them, but at least they don’t have to brave the jam like in previous years,” added Mdm Yong.
Similarly, Mr Han of The Cookies General noted that the production volume and speed have been impacted by MCO.
“The production phase has been impacted by the regulations imposed during this period, which will definitely affect the manpower and production speed,” he said.
“We will have to say sorry to some of those who recently placed orders as many cookies will be sold out soon,” Mr Han added.