SINGAPORE, May 25 — When Karen Ko buys her family’s groceries once a week, her shopping list includes a mix of fresh and frozen chicken meat to be used as the family’s main meat source.
“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,” Ko, 60, told TODAY on Wednesday.
So when she heard the news that Malaysia would be halting chicken exports from June 1, she decided to grab two bags of frozen chicken from the NTUC Fairprice supermarket at Vivocity yesterday. No fresh chicken was available, she added.
She was one of 17 shoppers TODAY interviewed today on their usual shopping trips to supermarkets or wet markets, of whom four bought more chicken than they usually would. 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 Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee.
Singapore receives about a third (34 per cent) 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.
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 today in Ang Mo Kio and Toa Payoh had fresh chicken available.
Visits to two wet markets — Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre and And 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 tomorrow, in hopes of buying chicken.
‘We don’t know what will happen’
Lawrence Low, 64, 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 (chicken) left and i managed to get extra.” 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’ll just be chicken affected (by supply shortages), so nothing will come as a surprise,” he said.
However, despite his wife’s panic, 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 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,” 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 (RM8) in the last two days.
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
Wati Ismail was doing her daily marketing, which always includes chicken, at Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre today.
“I do this every day, and usually go to my usual stall l so I just buy about S$10 worth,” said the 48-year-old housewife, adding that she just cooks up whatever the amount can afford her.
Despite describing the poultry as a “daily necessity”, 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, 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.
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 by faster,” said 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’
Richard Seah, 74, retiree, planned to visit the store early tomorrow as he was unable to get chicken breast to cook his famed Hainanese chicken rice for his grandchildren.
While he had obtained some chicken for his dinner, 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.
As for Rosmaja Abdul Samat, 52, 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. — TODAY