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'Prefer fresh chicken': No panic, but some S'pore consumers buying more 'just in case' ahead of M'sia export ban

SINGAPORE — When Ms Karen Ko buys her family’s groceries once a week, her shopping list includes a mix of fresh and frozen chicken meat.

'Prefer fresh chicken': No panic, but some S'pore consumers buying more 'just in case' ahead of M'sia export ban

A woman walking past a poultry stall at a wet market in Yew Tee on May 25, 2022.

  • Out of 17 shoppers interviewed by TODAY, only four were buying extra chicken
  • The rest said they would turn to other meat sources or buy frozen chicken instead
  • Malaysia will be halting exports of chicken from June 1 to address a shortage in the country
  • Visits to three supermarkets by TODAY showed they still had supplies of chicken
  • Sellers at two wet markets said customers were ordering double their usual amount of chicken

SINGAPORE — When Ms Karen Ko buys her family’s groceries once a week, her shopping list includes a mix of fresh and frozen chicken meat.

“We have a domestic helper and she’s Muslim, so she does not eat pork. We don’t eat beef or mutton either, so there aren’t many meat options for us,” Ms Ko, 60, told TODAY on Wednesday (May 25).

So when she heard the news that Malaysia will be halting chicken exports from June 1, she decided to grab two bags of frozen chicken from the NTUC FairPrice supermarket at Vivocity on Tuesday. No fresh chicken was available, she added.

She was one of 17 shoppers TODAY interviewed on Wednesday on their usual shopping trips to supermarkets or wet markets, of whom four bought more chicken than they usually would. Ms Ko was not looking to buy any more chicken.

The other 13 shoppers were content to see how things go, or use frozen chicken or other meats instead while chicken is harder to obtain. Visits to three supermarkets by TODAY on Wednesday showed they still had supplies of chicken.

Malaysia's decision, announced on Monday, is aimed at addressing a shortage of chicken in the country and stabilising prices, and would last indefinitely, said Malaysia’s agriculture and food industries minister Ronald Kiandee.

Singapore receives about a third of its poultry from Malaysia, most of which comes in live before they are slaughtered and chilled here, said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).

The SFA also urged Singaporeans to switch to frozen chicken and alternative meat products, and to buy only what they need.

Fresh chicken for sale at the FairPrice Xtra outlet at Nex Mall in Serangoon at around 4pm on May 24, 2022.

The Straits Times reported that fresh chicken at supermarkets in the Bedok area had run out of fresh chicken by 9am, and wet markets in Bedok, Ghim Moh, Bishan and MacPherson had sold out before 9.30am.

However, three supermarkets TODAY visited between 11.30am and 2pm on Wednesday in Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh had fresh chicken available.

Visits to two wet markets — Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre and Ang Mo Kio’s Chong Boon Market and Food Centre — found no signs of panic buying, though a handful of shoppers were buying double their usual orders, said poultry stall owners. 

Some shoppers left Chong Boon Market and Food Centre empty-handed as fresh chicken sellers shut about an hour earlier than usual at around 10.30am as their chicken supply depleted. They have made plans to visit the stores slightly earlier on Thursday, in hopes of buying chicken.

'WE DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN'

Mr Lawrence Low, a 64-year-old gym coordinator, had some free time in the morning as he was scheduled to start work in the afternoon. So, his wife tasked him with buying some whole chicken from the nearby Chong Boon Market and Food Centre.

“She called me just to buy more chicken because she’s kiasu (paranoid) about the situation,” he said.

“Luckily I came down in time to buy, because there’s already so little left and I managed to get extra.”

Chicken parts for sale at a poultry stall in a wet market at Vista Point on May 25, 2022.

Mr Low managed to snag three whole chickens at around 9.30am, which is much more than their usual half a chicken that tides his family of three through a week.

“As we recover from Covid-19, there will be more to come. I don't think it will just be chicken affected (by supply shortages), so nothing will come as a surprise,” he said. 

Mr Low said he is not worried. “I’m going to take it easy… Whatever my wife cooks, we eat. It doesn’t matter if it is chicken or not.”

Also shopping at the same wet market was Mrs Chng, who declined to give her full name, who had secured 10 chicken thighs — double her usual order of five.

My daughter loves chicken, and she reminded me ‘please mummy, buy chicken now’, so I quickly came down just in case there is no more.
Shopper Mrs Chng, 62, who declined to give her full name

“My daughter loves chicken, and she reminded me ‘please mummy, buy chicken now’, so I quickly came down just in case there is no more,” said the 62-year-old homemaker. She had visited at 9am and made her purchase before the stall ran out of chicken thighs.

She was also hoping to buy more chicken to avoid price increases she expects in the weeks ahead. The prices of the chicken thighs she purchased had already increased by S$0.30 each to S$2.50 in the last two days.

Mrs Chng also wanted to buy more as she does not like to use frozen chicken, which she said is “not as fresh” as she was unsure when the chickens were slaughtered.

“I’m also more comfortable with chicken from Malaysia since it's nearby and fresh… I feel safer eating it,” she said. However, frozen chicken will be her last resort once stocks run dry.

RATHER NOT EAT CHICKEN IF THERE IS NO FRESH CHICKEN

Ms Wati Ismail was doing her daily marketing, which always includes chicken, at Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre on Wednesday.

“I do this every day and I usually go to my usual stall, I just buy about S$10 worth,” said the 48-year-old housewife, adding that she just cooks whatever the amount can afford her.

Despite describing the poultry as a “daily necessity”, Ms Wati said she was unwilling to make the switch to frozen chicken, and will opt for other meats and seafood to tide through the indefinite period come June 1.

“I like the freshness and it just tastes better,” she said.

Similarly, Ms Snookie Song, 46, housewife, had bought three whole chickens from Chong Boon Market and Food Centre – her usual order which lasts the family for about three weeks.

“I’m comfortable with eating frozen chicken if it's for fried food, but if I’m cooking it otherwise, I still prefer using fresh chicken because of the flavour,” she said.

A stallholder selling poultry at the wet market in Vista Point weighs a chicken on May 25, 2022.

Malaysia's announcement has caused her to worry about chicken prices. Already, she has had to pay S$18 per chicken, S$2 higher than it was during her last purchase at the start of May.

Poultry stall owners and workers told TODAY that while some customers had ordered up to 50 per cent more than usual, they were not surprised. They've also had to increase prices as suppliers increased the wholesale cost of chicken amid higher demand on Tuesday.

“I had to tell people to come earlier tomorrow if they want specific cuts because the stock is going faster,” said Mr Wee, 45, of Wee Chicken at Ang Mo Kio. However, he said not all customers were buying extra during this period, just a few.

While at neighbouring stall Fresh Chicken, stall helper Fenny Ng said their supplier had been able to fulfil only half of their usual chicken orders.

She also said some customers had ordered twice as much as usual, but was unable to give an estimate of how many customers had done this.

'AFTER CIRCUIT BREAKER, WE ALL KNOW THERE'S NO POINT HOARDING'

Mr Richard Seah, a 74-year-old retiree, planned to visit the store early on Thursday as he was unable to get chicken breast to cook Hainanese chicken rice for his grandchildren.

While he had obtained some chicken for his dinner, Mr Seah bought just enough for himself and said the circuit breaker had taught him that there was no need to hoard.

“People were hoarding so many things, like toilet paper and chicken meat. The market was so packed but what for? In the end, everything was open and abundant a week later during the circuit breaker,” he said.

People queuing to buy chicken at a poultry stall in Yew Tee Market on May 25, 2022.

As for Mr Rosmaja Abdul Samat, a 52-year-old warehouse assistant, he was just thankful he had already eaten his fair share of chicken earlier this month at the start of the Hari Raya festive period while he was visiting family and friends.

His wife had bought some fresh chicken yesterday, but they have no plans to purchase any extra to stockpile at home as the family of seven eats chicken only twice a week. “As long as it’s chicken, frozen or fresh, I don’t mind,” he said.

“We can cook laksa, noodles, seafood and so many other things to replace chicken, so there’s no problem.”

When contacted by TODAY, DFI Retail Group, which oversees supermarket chains such as Giant and Cold Storage, reiterated its earlier statement that it is monitoring the situation and talking to non-Malaysian suppliers.

TODAY has also sought comment on the availability of chicken from supermarket chains Sheng Siong and NTUC FairPrice. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JACQUELYNN ANN THANGAVELU

Related topics

chicken Malaysia supermarket wet markets

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