SINGAPORE, June 7 — Five days after Malaysia enforced a ban on chicken exports, some Singapore suppliers are halting production lines and putting workers on leave while some wet market stallholders say they will close until the ban is lifted.

The ban on chicken exports by Malaysian authorities, imposed on June 1, was designed to stabilise chicken supply and price in the country amid a shortage of the product.

About a third (34 per cent) of Singapore’s chicken supply is imported from Malaysia, with most being imported live for slaughtering here, said the Singapore Food Agency.

Ma Chin Chew, director of Hup Heng Poultry Industries, told TODAY yesterday that his company has asked employees to clear their leave as the firm halts production of fresh chicken. He did not state if the leave was paid or not.

His company, which imports and sells frozen and fresh chicken meat, plans to keep the “status quo” in terms of manpower.

“We don’t know how long the ban will last. If it’s just a month, we don’t want to make big changes to our manpower,” Ma said.

Similarly, importer Kee Song Food has put its employees on leave. Its head of business development James Sim said the move is a chance for the workers to recharge after working extra shifts.

The importer had ramped up production by 30 to 40 per cent after Malaysia announced the impending export ban on May 26, allowing the firm to create a stockpile of around 10 days’ worth of chicken.

“We will definitely need to reduce the workforce,” Sim told TODAY on June 1, adding that the company will be hit by a 95 per cent cut to its revenue.

“Hopefully, they can see this as a break so that they can rest and return to work recharged when supply returns.” However, chicken rice stallholders have so far managed to operate as usual.

Lincoln Chew, owner of Nam Kee Chicken located at Upper Thomson Road, told TODAY that they have not been forced to switch to frozen chicken at the moment.

“We are still getting fresh, frozen chicken. This is when the fresh chicken is frozen for about a day or two, but other than that, nothing has changed,” he said.

Similarly, Roland Neo, the owner of Chye Kee Hainanese Chicken Rice located at Ang Mo Kio, said: “Maybe supplies can last us another week or two weeks but for now, everything is still okay. We managed to get the chickens we need to operate.

“The supplier we get our chicken from has three big warehouses so they have stored quite a lot.”

Trying to stay afloat, or close indefinitely

Employees of chicken importers are not the only ones taking a break while waiting for supply to resume.

Wet market stall Lian Heng Poultry Supply’s owner Chua, who declined to give his full name, said that he will take this period as an opportunity to rest while his stall at Taman Jurong remains closed.

“There’s no point in selling frozen chicken anyway because my customers only want fresh meat,” he said, adding that he would also need to search for a frozen chicken supplier.

“Some customers called to ask if I have any (fresh) chicken or if I’m open today, but all I can tell them is there’s nothing to sell.” Although this means he would be earning no revenue, Chua believes that Malaysia’s exports will resume in a month’s time, adding that he will “figure out what to do next” should the ban remain for longer.

Some in the chicken business have decided to try operating as usual, but with fewer chickens.

Elly Sukma, owner of a poultry store named after her in Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre, said that she had not been able to get even half of her usual order of fresh chicken.

“I am worried because my customers want fresh chicken and the price of frozen chicken is going up. The price is very high now and it is the highest I’ve ever seen them. I need to think twice if I want to buy frozen chicken now,” she said.

As for Wee, who declined to give his full name and who runs a poultry wet market stall Wee Chicken at Ang Mo Kio, he closed his stall yesterday because he could not secure any chicken supply.

He hopes to reopen today as his supplier might be able to provide him some frozen chicken to sell.

Two weeks ago, with the Malaysian ban looming, Wee had advised customers to go down earlier to get their preferred orders. He now works day-by-day, selling whatever frozen chicken from Brazil he can secure.

“I close two hours earlier now, at around 10am, because there isn’t enough to sell,” he said.

“But I can’t afford to close entirely, we need the money to pay for the stall and our customers also need chicken to eat.” He said that prices have also fluctuated at his stall, dependent on how much his supplier charges him. Overall, chicken is “a bit” costlier than it was before the ban kicked in, he added.

Looking for alternative sources

To secure chicken meat that is not frozen, a handful of food-and-beverage outlets and wet market stalls are turning to a supplier from Thailand for chilled chicken supply.

Marc Tay, executive director of CS Tay, said that his firm is the only one in Singapore importing chilled chicken from Thailand. It also imports frozen processed food.

Tay said that since Malaysia’s export ban was announced, six wet market stalls have enquired about the firm’s chilled chicken from Thailand, which goes under the brand S-Pure.

About 10 restaurants are also in talks with the company, he added.

CS Tay’s suppliers raise, slaughter and package the chicken parts in Thailand, which are then chilled and flown to Singapore. While CS Tay used to import 8,000 packs of chicken a week, it has increased this to 27,000 packs this week.

“We can import up to 75,000 packs of chicken a week should demand rise,” said Tay.

This is to meet demand from supermarkets and direct customers, and the company has seen a 30 per cent increase in business.

However, CS Tay is unable to supply to restaurants and wet market stalls just yet as it is able to import only chicken parts from Thailand that has already been packaged for retail sale.

Restaurants and wet market stalls are looking for whole chickens instead, said Tay.

“We’re still waiting for the relevant documentation and lab testing to meet the Government’s guidelines for packaging and minimum shelf life so that we can import whole chilled chicken from Thailand.” — TODAY