SINGAPORE, May 25 — The Poultry Merchants' Association said yesterday (May 24) that prices of fresh chicken are set to rise in the coming days as poultry importers rush to slaughter more chicken to freeze the meat and stockpile ahead of Malaysia's June 1 export ban.
The curb is going to affect eateries selling cooked food where chicken is the main dish, stalls at wet markets selling chicken as well as stocks at supermarkets.
Ma Chin Chew, secretary for the Poultry Merchants' Association, said that as importers look to increase their chicken meat stockpiles, the price of live chicken for slaughter will go up with increased demand.
Besides that, some Malaysian chicken farms largely cater to suppliers in Singapore and may rely on higher prices in the coming days to keep themselves afloat, Ma added.
He also described Malaysia’s decision as “traumatic” for importers such as himself, for he is the director of Hup Heng Poultry Industries, which sells frozen and fresh chicken meat. Malaysia announced on May 23 that it will be halting exports from June 1 until the prices and supply of chicken stabilise in the country.
Malaysia’s agriculture and food industries minister Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee said that this move may last indefinitely. The country currently exports 3.6 million chickens a month.
In light of the announcement, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) urged consumers to consider buying frozen chicken products instead, or switch to alternative meat sources.
Singapore got about a third (34 per cent) of its poultry last year from Malaysia, and almost all of these imports from Malaysia were live chickens, which were then slaughtered and chilled here, SFA said in a Facebook post.
Importers told TODAY that they are ramping up their chicken meat production after the news and looking to increase their frozen chicken stockpile.
And of the six food-and-beverage (F&B) outlets approached by TODAY, five said that they are looking at alternatives such as switching to frozen chicken meat as a last resort.
One chicken-rice stallholder told TODAY that without fresh chicken, he might be forced to shut down his business.
Stockpiling before ban
Speaking on behalf of the Poultry Merchants’ Association, Ma explained that fresh chicken meat from Malaysia will likely run out by June 3.
“Since May 31 will be the last day we can bring in live chicken to slaughter, and considering the around three-day shelf life for fresh chicken, we’ll only have frozen chicken options from June 3,” he said.
Ma estimated that his import company’s revenue will drop by about 60 per cent due to Malaysia’s halt on exports.
Importers in Singapore that sell chicken products usually bring in the animals live for slaughter. Some are then sold chilled, while others are sold or stored frozen.
On this point, James Sim, head of business development at Kee Song Food Corporation, said that the firm started having double shifts for their employees to raise production, and hope to increase its frozen chicken supply.
“There is a limit as to how many chicken we can bring in as well, since our farms (in Malaysia) have a limited number of chickens.
“We’ll be monitoring the situation on a daily basis... and are expediting production level so that we create some stockpiles these couple of days and supply thawed or frozen chicken.” Sim said that “price adjustments” will happen with increased demand and the low supply of chicken meat.
Kee Song Food Corporation will also not be supplying extra chicken meat in the lead-up to June despite increased demand in light of the news. It will be focusing instead on building its stockpile of “at least two to four weeks” of frozen meat in the next few days, Mr Sim added.
There are other countries exporting frozen chicken meat, which can tide importers during this indefinite ban, but Ma from the Poultry Merchants’ Association said that importers are unsure of whether their customers will be willing to pay much higher prices for chicken meat.
“If we import from another country that charges so much but our customers don’t want to buy from us, we’re then stuck with this stock that adds to our loses,” he reasoned.
“Some customers may think that this ban will end soon... so they might not want to buy chicken at a higher price.”
What food sellers say
Alan Lim, owner of Lin Ji Chicken Rice at a hawker centre in Pasir Ris, sighed repeatedly while speaking to TODAY about Malaysia’s curb on chicken exports.
“My supplier texted me by phone that either June 1 or June 3, he’ll run out of fresh chicken. If there’s no chicken, my business is dead,” he said in Mandarin.
His stall sells other meats besides chicken, such as char siew (barbecued pork) and roast pork, but these will not be enough to tide through this period.
“People don’t come to us for our roast pork or char siew, they come to us for our chicken, and maybe they’ll add on pork. The pork might help cover some costs, but chicken is what keeps us alive.” When asked if he might raise prices for chicken rice, Lim said that he cannot even do that when he has nothing to sell.
Similarly, Khatijah Said Ibrahim received a text message on her phone at around 8pm yesterday from her supplier with bad news — she will not be able to buy fresh chicken meat from June 1.
The owner of Asia Ghani Jamu Selera chicken-rice chain, which has four stores across Singapore, said that the food outlets have been using fresh chicken since the 1970s, only using frozen chicken for a month in the 2000s due to bird flu disrupting supply.
“So teruk (terrible). Our customers may be understanding but we feel bad because the quality is not there,” she said, adding that the kitchens will have to prepare the chicken differently when the eateries eventually resort to frozen chicken next month.
Like Khatijah, other food sellers said that frozen chicken will compromise the quality of food, but they have no choice but to use that to stay afloat.
Jason Thian, director of Boon Tong Kee, a famous chain selling chicken rice, is expecting chilled chicken meat to run out within the first two weeks of June after any excess stock from importers is exhausted.
“Frozen raw chicken is also low in supply worldwide, so businesses that focus solely on chicken as their core product will be greatly affected,” he added.
“Boon Tong Kee still has other product offerings on its menu, but since the brand is synonymous with chicken rice, it is inevitable that revenue will be hit hard once consumers avoid the restaurant after they know that the signature boiled chicken and chicken rice are not available.” The chicken rice chain uses an average of 450 fresh whole chickens a day.
Boon Tong Kee is working with its regular suppliers, but Thian said that alternatives for chicken of decent quality is hard to find and a switch to frozen chicken will be “inevitable”.
“It is hard to say for now whether we will increase the price of boiled chicken due to a foreseeable increase in raw chicken prices,” Thain said, adding that Boon Tong Kee already absorbed higher prices for raw chicken for two years before raising prices for boiled chicken in January this year.
Fans of Korean fried chicken will not be spared, as Jinjja Chicken’s daily order of 500kg of fresh raw chicken wings will be jeopardised by the disruption to supply.
Bernard Tay, founder of Jinjja Chicken, said: “The impact will be huge. We are in the business of selling chicken. If there is no fresh chicken wings coming in from Malaysia, we will have to find alternatives but the options are frankly limited at this point.” Most of its customers are students, and with most outlets in heartland areas, the F&B chain will try to absorb as much cost as it can while it looks at alternatives to fresh chicken, which can be costlier.
For F&B chain The Soup Spoon, it may use frozen chicken for its food offerings and stock bases. For more than two months, it has already been feeling the impact of disruptions to chicken supply due to the Ukraine-Russia war and manpower shortages in Brazil.
Brazil is one of Singapore's major sources of chicken, contributing 49 per cent of the country's poultry supply. The Soup Spoon's co-founder Anna Lim said that the chicken the F&B chain uses largely comes from Brazil.
“There’s going to be more competition for frozen chicken because this is the only other option,” she said. The Soup Spoon uses 18 tonnes, or about 18,000kg, of chicken each month for its soup stock. It also buys fresh chicken for special menus, such as during Christmas.
“If this continue and prices increase, we might need to explore different menu options and use other meats, or even seafood,” Ms Lim said.
DFI Retail Group, which oversees supermarket chains such as Giant and Cold Storage, said that it is monitoring the situation and working with its “global diversified supplier partner base to minimise impact of poultry supply in Singapore”.
“We are currently in discussions with non-Malaysian suppliers to increase imports of chilled poultry, as well as other sources of meat to offer more alternatives for consumers. “At the same time, we encourage consumers to purchase only what they need, or consider other sources of meat products where possible,” it added. ― TODAY