Business as usual at food stalls on first day of Malaysia chicken export ban but clock is ticking, say hawkers
SINGAPORE: Hungry diners continued to throng Mr Ong Eng Koon's popular chicken rice stall at Pek Kio Market and Food Centre on Wednesday (Jun 1), the first day of a ban on Malaysian chicken exports.
But like several other food businesses that CNA spoke too, there is uncertainty over supply and cost issues.
Mr Ong said he received his usual supply of fresh chicken but is unsure when this will end. At the same hawker centre, another chicken rice seller, Mr Patrick Ng, said he expects to continue getting fresh chicken for two more weeks.
Monga Taiwanese Fried Chicken, a fried chicken chain in Singapore, has locked down a supply of fresh poultry for 10 days, the duration given by suppliers to Mr Lem Cheong, director of operations at Baoshi F&B Management, the parent company of Monga.
On May 23, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced he would halt the export of up to 3.6 million chickens per month from Jun 1 to address a domestic supply shortage.
FRESH AND FRESH-FROZEN CHICKEN
For one Singapore importer, it went right down to the wire. Mr Ma Chin Chew, chief executive of Hup Heng Poultry Industries, said his firm imported one last batch of fresh chicken - at 11.59pm on Tuesday night - just before the ban kicked in.
When asked about supplies of fresh chicken in the coming days, he said some importers may have stocked up in the past week.
"These (chickens) will be fresh-frozen rather than fresh," said Mr Ma, who is also the secretary of Singapore's Poultry Merchants' Association.
"This one week, they've (suppliers) gotten more and frozen it. We call this fresh-frozen because it's (frozen for) less than a week. It can be used as fresh. For the next one, two weeks, it can be used."
With no incoming live poultry, Mr Ma's company will stop slaughtering operations for now and consider processing frozen chicken - cutting it up into parts - if there is demand.
THE FROZEN ALTERNATIVE
While some food businesses are already planning to switch to frozen chicken, others are taking a wait-and-see approach.
At Monga, deep-frozen Brazilian chicken is currently being considered as an alternative to the Malaysian fresh poultry the outlets use, Mr Cheong said.
For Mr Ong, the chicken rice vendor, it is simply not an option. "The taste is different," he said.
While his stall offers other dishes like duck and char siew rice, his mainstay - chicken rice - is a crowd-puller and accounts for most of his business.
Even at the tail end of the lunch peak, there were customers waiting to order the dish, which he sells at S$3 a plate.
Mr Ong, who has been selling chicken rice for 25 years, said he plans to stick to this price despite the rising cost of poultry.
"LIKE BUYING STOCKS"
A few days ago, his supplier raised the cost of one kg of chicken from "S$5 plus" to "S$6 plus". Even so, Mr Ong said he would still make "a little bit" of profit without having to increase the price of his chicken rice.
Mr Ng, the other chicken rice vendor at Pek Kio Market, lamented the cost increase. He used to pay S$4.30 per kg of chicken. It now costs him around S$6.
And there appears to be no end in sight.
"The prices have increased twice so far, and we’re expecting a third time in the next few days," said Mr Cheong of Monga Fried Chicken.
When the Malaysia export ban was announced, prices went up by S$0.50 per kg, and then another S$0.30 a few days ago, Mr Cheong said. The price of special cuts like thigh and breast increased by S$1.20 per kg.
"Prices are rocketing for fresh chicken. Buying chicken is like buying stocks now."