Most shoppers comfortable with frozen chicken or alternative meats as Malaysia ban looms
While a handful of shoppers at wet markets bought more fresh chicken than usual on Tuesday (May 31), others said they would buy only what they need and are comfortable switching to frozen poultry or other meats if fresh chicken is no longer available.
Meanwhile, some consumers took the opportunity to tuck into chicken rice and other dishes before Malaysia's export ban on fresh chicken kicks in on Wednesday (June 1).
Among the shoppers who spoke to The Straits Times on Tuesday was warehouse operator Han Jun Yin, 42, who bought 10 chickens rather than her usual five at 216 Bedok North Market.
She said this was to prepare for the ban, and she plans to freeze the chickens. "I cook chicken a lot at home, so I am worried I will not have enough. I cannot opt for pork as an alternative as my domestic helper cannot eat it."
Other shoppers were less worried about the ban.
Retired factory worker Victor Wong, 72, who was on a grocery run at Bedok South Market & Food Centre, said: "If there is no supply of fresh chicken, then so be it, I will not die if there is no chicken to eat, as there are so many alternatives."
Sales agent Stanley Ng, 47, who bought one chicken from the same market, said: "I prefer fresh chicken to frozen chicken, but there is nothing I can do about it. I think hoarding is unnecessary."
At Eunos Crescent Market, housewife Maria Theresa Green, 60, who usually buys chicken fortnightly, said she and her husband are willing to eat less chicken once the ban sets in.
"I don't think the ban will affect me too much. I will eat other foods, like vegetables and fish," she added.
Malaysia is facing a chicken shortage, with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob announcing on May 23 that it will halt the export of up to 3.6 million chickens a month from June 1, until domestic prices and production stabilise.
Poultry sellers here have also accepted the export ban on fresh chicken by Malaysia, with some saying they will likely use the opportunity to take a break.
Mr Ong Huan Koo, 73, owner of Sinmah Poultry Processing at Toa Payoh West Market & Food Centre, said he will close his stall in June.
He told ST: "We cannot compete with larger chains like supermarkets. They at least can continue selling frozen food. But for us wet market stalls which focus on fresh chicken, it's a different story. Taking a break is our best option."
Mr Ong Aik Beng, 58, owner of Seng Lip Fresh Chicken and Duck, added that business has been brisk since the ban was announced.
He said: "There was a huge increase in sales last week when the ban was first announced, resulting in really long queues. I've been working longer hours and it's quite tiring. So I will take this chance to rest and wait until the ban is lifted."
Those who intend to continue selling chicken said they will likely have to raise prices.
Mr Mohammad Ismail Abbas, 71, a butcher at Eunos Crescent Market and Food Centre, who sells both frozen and fresh chicken, said he has been keeping chicken prices at his stall stable but will likely make changes soon.
He said: "After the ban, I think I will have to increase prices. It's hard to say how much the suppliers will raise prices. For the time being, I will try to control my prices, but I may need to increase by about 10 per cent soon."
Some eateries and hawker stalls were busy on Tuesday as foodies enjoyed their favourite chicken rice or nasi lemak while the dishes were still prepared with fresh chicken.
Ms Sherilyn Tan, 29, was among the lunchtime crowd who loaded up on nasi lemak packets at Dickson Nasi Lemak in Joo Chiat.
Ms Tan, who works in technology, decided to drop by the takeaway-only outlet after Dickson announced last Friday that it would close temporarily from June 1 to 30, in the absence of fresh chicken for its signature ayam goreng berempah (spiced fried chicken).
"I came down today after I heard they were going to close," said Ms Tan, who picked up five packets.
Others like power station worker Lim Kim Siah, 48, was queueing for Tong Fong Fatt chicken rice at Block 18 Bedok South Market.
Noting that his family eats chicken rice about twice a week, Mr Lim said: "We have to be flexible because what can I do about it? There are many other alternatives available."
Like their customers, chicken rice sellers are also prepared to adapt to the ban.
"In times like this, we have to be flexible," said Mr Gan Sze Wei, 41, who runs Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken at Block 18.
Despite chicken dishes accounting for about half his sales, Mr Gan said he is not too worried. "My supplier is not sure whether he is able to get chicken for me... but I can sell other dishes such as roasted pork and prawn dumpling noodles," he said.
Mr Bai Jiaofen, 50, who runs Peng You Chicken Rice and Noodles at the same market, is among those who are more concerned.
He said: "We are very worried since it will affect our livelihood, but there is nothing much we can do about it. We will experiment with frozen chicken, but we're not sure if it will taste the same."
- Additional reporting by Cheong Chee Foong, Nellie Toh, Ryan Goh and Jason Quah