Money Mysteries is a column by Ryan Ong that explores the odd world of money. Where does it all go when you give it to a bank? Why does a potato sometimes cost S$200, or shipping a sofa sometimes cost S$1.99? Why is art so expensive, and how do people (legally) rip off casinos? Every week we answer these questions and investigate a new Money Mystery.
Ramly Burger stalls have been a pillar of the pasar malam for decades. But how profitable are they, and is it worth running your own stall?
Although it's a Malaysian company - with meat products banned in Singapore no less - there are plenty of Singaporeans who consider Ramly Burger a way of life.
It's been a pillar of the Pasar Malam for decades, but everyone keeps asking one thing: how profitable is Ramly Burger, and how much can you make selling it?
What is Ramly Burger?
Ramly Burger was founded in Malaysia in 1984, by Haji Ramli Mokni. The company's main goal is to produce properly sourced, halal meat products. Besides burger patties, they also produce chicken wings, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and even a few types of sauces.
We don't know how much they make, but we do know that they have a two billion RM (about S$634.1 million) target this year.
Ramly Burger really has two faces: the first is the food supply business that goes to supermarkets, grocers, and so forth. The second is the chain of Ramly Burger street stores, which can be found in every state in Malaysia.
The Ramly Burger street store is also a fixture in Singapore Pasar Malams (night markets), but the Ramly Burger sold here may or may not actually be Ramly Burger (more on that below).
Wait, aren't Ramly Burgers banned?
Officially, yes. This isn't specific to Ramly Burgers. Singapore has a ban on beef imports from Malaysia (don't ask us why, we're not food experts).
However, Ramly Burgers continue to exist in Pasar Malams, for two reasons.
The first is that anyone can call their burgers Ramly Burger. It's quite likely that most of the Ramly Burger you eat has nothing to do with the actual brand.
Rather, it refers to the way the patty is cooked (wrapped in the egg), the use of the signature ingredient worcestershire sauce (that's pronounced woh-ster-sher), and the paper wrappers.
The second reason is that some people smuggle in the meat. In fact, someone once started a high speed chase at the Tuas checkpoint, after trying to smuggle Ramly meat.
You wouldn't think it's worth that much, but hey - he drove a BMW.
But smuggled Ramly meat is relatively uncommon. Street vendors know that, as long as they follow the cooking style, people won't question the authenticity of the patty.
How much do Ramly Burger stalls make?
In Malaysia, Ramly Burger says their 25,000 stalls make about 2,000 to 3,000 ringgit a month (about S$634 to S$951). But let's look at what's likely for Singapore.
First, we need to factor in rent at the pasar malam. The typical rent is S$150 to S$200 a day, for non-special events.
For food vendors, this can be much higher - as much as S$7,000 per month. We'll use that as the base cost.
Next, we need to factor in the helpers. On average, the stall will need at least two people: two to take turns at cooking, and two to take turns at handling the money.
Assuming they get paid the same rate as hawker assistants, this could be around S$60 to S$70 per day. We'll assume S$2,100 a month per assistant, for a total of S$4,200 a month in manpower.
Then we need to work out the cost of the making the actual burgers.
- Ground white pepper
- Chilli sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Beef or chicken patty
We got some ballpark estimates from a food supplier, an actual Ramly Burger cook, and two Ramly Burger assistants. According to their rough estimates, the production cost comes to roughly S$0.70 per burger.
We know that the burger goes for about S$3.50 (minus special requests).
According to our contacts, the typical Ramly Burger stall will sell between 150 to 200 burgers a day. Let's go for the high estimate: that's about S$560 a day, or S$16,800 per month, minus the cost of ingredients.
After deducting the cost of rental (S$7,000 per month), and manpower (S$4,200 per month), that's S$5,600 in a good month, when you constantly sell 200 burgers a day. If you sell only 150 burgers a day, the profit drops to a mere S$1,400 a month.
Is it worth running a Ramly Burger stall?
The median income for most Singaporeans is around S$4,000 a month. But that's for a five-day work week, with most of us working eight to 12 hours a day.
There are also benefits like vacation leave and medical leave.
For a typical Ramly Burger stall - or in fact almost any food stall at a pasar malam - a 15 hour day is not uncommon. Most of them work every day of the month, in order to get the most out of their rental payment.
That's 450 hours a month, so it means they're getting about S$12.40 per hour. Note that there's no leave. if you're sick, you just wasted the day's rental cost.
The biggest issue though, is the inconsistent income. On a bad month - such as when it rains a lot, or when the location is wrong and no one's buying - a Ramly Burger stall could even face a loss.
Bear in mind you'd need to sell 4,000 burgers a month just to break even.
And assuming it costs S$7,000 to rent a pasar malam stall, you might need to get a personal instalment loan to cover your setup costs. Overall, not an easy way to make money.