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‘We are unable to foresee the demand’: Suppliers scramble to meet spike in orders for food containers during COVID-19 circuit breaker

‘We are unable to foresee the demand’: Suppliers scramble to meet spike in orders for food containers during COVID-19 circuit breaker

Fishball noodles in a takeaway container. (Photo: LG Han)

SINGAPORE: Soaring demand for food takeaway boxes during the enhanced “circuit breaker” has left suppliers scrambling to meet an overwhelming number of orders from eateries and caterers.

While supply lines have mostly returned to normal with the easing of lockdown measures in neighbouring countries, suppliers told CNA that they are still struggling to fulfil orders of food containers.

Supply Smiths founder Julian Chen noted a substantial rise in demand, which has doubled since the start of the circuit breaker.

“We have had some trouble at the start managing the demand as it was almost an overnight spike after the announcement. But we are meeting most demand now - perhaps 20 per cent are unmet,” he said.

PIZZA BOXES SNAPPED UP

Meanwhile, Dillic International saw a 75 per cent increase in sales, said operations director Priscilla Ng.

“Although our stocks are all coming in, we are unable to foresee the demand. The moment we put it up on our e-shop, it gets snapped up very quickly … We did increase supply to cater to increased demand, but the increase in demand is very high,” she said.

For instance, when Dillic recently put up a few thousand pizza boxes online, the boxes were sold out in five minutes, she said. Dillic now plans to stagger sales to prevent a few companies from buying up the entire stock immediately.

But the most popular item so far are the plain food containers with three to four compartments, said suppliers, with most orders coming from those providing food to foreign workers in dormitories.

“They are looking at 10,000 to 30,000 pieces every day. No supplier will keep that kind of plain generic item without a contract,” said Ms Ng, adding that these orders started in April after the Government ordered almost all foreign workers to remain in their dormitories to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Demand for food containers with compartments rose by more than four times for Sea Trading, said director Jacqui Chua, with orders coming from restaurants and caterers.

READ: Food container suppliers face potential shortage during circuit breaker

READ: Cocktail bar, Italian restaurant call it quits amid COVID-19 challenges for F&B sector

BUBBLE TEA CONTAINERS 

While demand for food containers has shot up, orders for some types of packaging such as bubble tea and confectionery containers have stopped.

“We have these customers who were operating fine, then suddenly they had to close. Their usage was very high, so when they stopped abruptly we were stuck with too many goods in the warehouse. Now all we can do is just wait,” said Ms Ng.

This was after authorities further tightened the list of essential services on Apr 21, with standalone outlets that sell only beverages, packaged snacks, confectionaries and desserts ordered to close.

But supply constraints have eased with overseas manufacturers resuming operations and buyers turning to alternative suppliers from overseas as well.

OVERSEAS SUPPLIERS EASE CRUNCH

Ms Ng said that Dillic’s manufacturers in China - its main source - are producing at full capacity, while Ms Chua said the relaxing of Malaysia’s Movement Control Order has allowed factories - from where Sea Trading receives all its containers - to resume work.

In addition, some buyers have started sourcing their supplies directly from places such as China and Taiwan, said Ms Chua, adding that this has helped to ease the shortage in the industry.

Mr Jeremy Lim, who runs Moonstone Bar at Amoy, said that his eatery had already faced a shortage of food containers in the earlier part of the circuit breaker.

Because his customised packaging ran out early on, he had to switch to any sort of generic container which he could find from various suppliers and friends. He recently ordered a thousand containers, which will keep him going for now, but only till the end of the circuit breaker.

“Hopefully (the circuit breaker) doesn’t extend, if not I will have a problem again.”

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Source: CNA/cc(ac)

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