'It pains me to charge a higher price': Hawkers tell us how they're coping with the chicken export halt

PHOTO: Instagram/greatwallchickenrice

When Malaysia announced that it would halt the export of up to 3.6 million chickens per month from June 1 onwards, many frantic Singaporeans rushed to supermarkets and wet markets to clear out fresh chicken stocks.

With chicken being the most widely-consumed meat in Singapore - in 2021 alone, we imported some 214,400 tonnes of it - the panic is understandable.

Consumers aside, how are our local F&B establishments coping with the chicken export halt, especially since it affects their livelihood?

The hawkers AsiaOne spoke to said they were taken aback by the news.

"At first, I thought it was a joke because my friend sent me screenshot of the an article regarding this without a news header," Vanessa Tan, the owner of Great Wall Chicken Rice, told AsiaOne.

"Throughout the years I've been alive, I've never heard of chickens running out, so I thought it was fake news," added the 27-year-old entrepreneur.

The owner of Stone Nasi Lemak, Simon Huang, 40, shared that upon hearing the news, he was "very surprised and worried", especially since the main ingredient featured on his menu is chicken.

And while most people assume that only businesses specialising in chicken dishes like chicken rice and fried chicken are affected by Malaysia's new export limit, that isn't the case.

"I didn't realise that we are impacted until I realised we actually needed fresh chicken bones for the halal prawn soup," said the owner of halal prawn mee stall Deanna's Kitchen, Denise Deanna Chew, who goes by Deanna.

So, what's next?

Understandably, to cope with the issue on hand, F&B businesses have been scrambling to find alternative options or risk having their sales affected.

"I am unable to close this stall as my livelihood depends on it," owner of Hainan Chicken Rice Ball, Danny Tan, 46, tells us.

So, as of now, the business may have no choice but to resort to using frozen chicken.

"Our regulars know that we only use chilled fresh chicken for its moist texture when cooked. If our supplier can only get frozen chicken, it will likely compromise the texture, but what can we do when it is a matter of survival," he elaborated.

For the sake of her soup base, Deanna, 38, plans on using frozen whole chicken as well because "no one sells frozen chicken bones".

Denise and her husband sell halal prawn noodles that uses chicken in its broth. PHOTO: Instagram/denisedeanna

Unfortunately, this method will affect her profits and Deanna has already prepared herself for the inevitable damage.

"The cost will be higher but we will make do."

Like the other two hawkers, Vanessa has the same idea of using frozen chickens. Apart from that, she is also planning to source for chickens from other countries like Brazil and the United States.

However, she's been considering more serious options as well, such as shutting the stall in the meantime.

"If the fresh chicken runs out, we might have to close the chicken rice stall temporarily because we have nothing else to sell anymore," she said.

But in reality, even before the chicken supply issues, all the hawkers we spoke to shared that they've already been struggling to keep afloat for quite a while.

"We are always on constant look out for new suppliers but even without the ban from Malaysia, the price per kilogram of chicken has been increasing," Simon said.

Great Wall Chicken Rice has struggled as well, and Vanessa said that when supply costs went up, she had no choice but to increase her prices too.

"Most of my customers are elderly and it pains me to charge them at a higher price," she said sadly.

To increase prices or to not increase prices?

Despite the increment of food prices across the board, none of the hawkers we spoke to are willing to increase their prices.

"We will try to absorb the cost as long as we are able to," shared Simon.

However, in the long run, if things were to get worse, Danny shared that he may have no choice but to increase prices for the sake of Hainan Chicken Rice Ball's survival.

"We will try not to pass on those few cents to our customers as everything is already going up and up. However, if our supplier is making changes to their pricing every week due to the difficulty in sourcing for fresh chilled chicken, then we may have to increase a few cents to cover the increase in supplies."

Despite this, there is the fear that by doing so, it'll affect their own sales.

"We cannot increase the price too much. People just won't come and eat. I just hope that consumers continue to support us hawkers as it has not been easy these past two years and now with this news, I can only take it day by day," said Danny.

melissateo@asiaone.com