By Lyn Chan
SINGAPORE — Since Malaysia’s chicken export ban was announced on 23 May, reaction, fallout and solution stories have dominated the headlines.
Among them: Singaporeans scurrying to buy fresh chicken, chicken rice price hikes to be expected, Singapore looking for alternative sources of chicken, and the authorities’ assurance that the supply of frozen chicken is adequate. Chicken, after all, is the most widely consumed meat in the country, with a per capita consumption of 36kg in 2020, followed by seafood.
Now, about frozen chicken. That option has always been present but Singaporeans do love their fresh chicken, and spare no expense for it.
“All along, consumers have always preferred fresh chicken,” said James Sim, Kee Food Corporation’s head of business development, citing taste as the reason. Furthermore, Singapore has always had easy access to fresh chicken. “And yes, they’re willing to pay more for fresh chicken.”
Kee Song Food Corporation produces the premium Lacto chicken. The organic birds roam in ample space to calming Mozart music, and are fed a healthful antibiotic-free diet, including probiotics.
Last checked on Redmart, a pack of 300g fresh, boneless Kee Song Lacto chicken legs goes for S$9.60. Toh Thye San’s fresh GG French Poulet, which is considered of similar quality, costs S$8.85 for a 320g serving (S$8.30 for 300g) of boneless chicken legs.
Over at NTUC FairPrice online, Hego’s chilled boneless chicken legs are priced at S$4.05 for 240g (S$5.06 for 300g) while a 2kg bag from Seara sells for S$11.50 (S$1.73 for 300g).
But if fresh chicken prices rise after the export ban is lifted, will people turn to frozen chicken? In a flash Facebook poll conducted by Yahoo Finance, over 80 per cent surveyed said that frozen chicken would be their new go-to should prices increase.
For Dennis Tan, a retiree who cooks for his family, switching from fresh to frozen chicken will be easy as “we (only) eat a moderate amount of chicken”. Creative director Jayne Ng is inclined to take that route. She and her mother eat a fair bit of chicken and fresh chicken has always been the instinctive choice, but she actually doesn’t have a particular preference for either, she said. Not yet, anyway.
Sham Baharom, like Ng, has chicken on his meal roster often — three times a week, specifically. However, unlike Ng, the content head is adamant about sticking with fresh chicken. Recalling his family’s past experiences with frozen chicken, he said simply: “It just does not taste as good.”
He added: “If the price of (fresh) chicken increases astronomically, we will just eat less chicken. We are also trying to eat more healthily and are exploring vegetarian options.”
Frozen chicken seems to have a bad rap but it has a defender in Bunny Chan, a homemaker, who said that some frozen chicken tasted better than others. “I’m ok to eat it as I’ve had some that tasted pretty good,” she said, if prices were to spiral out of her budget. “But fresh is still best lah.”
The rising price of food in Singapore continued to drive inflation in April, with food costs higher by 4.1 per cent year-on-year, compared with 3.3 per cent in March.
Singapore's core inflation – which excludes accommodation and private transport costs – jumped to 3.3 per cent in April, up from 2.9 per cent the previous month.
Singapore’s chicken landscape
Malaysia announced it would ban exports of 3.6 million chickens a month from 1 June until domestic prices and production stabilise.
The Consumers Association of Singapore and the Singapore Food Agency have since advised consumers to consider alternative sources of chicken and meat products and frozen options for now and to only buy what they need.
Singapore has been boosting its food resiliency through buffer stocks and by diversifying its sources, so that it can cope when any single source is disrupted, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on 27 May according to a CNA report.
In 2021, Singapore imported 214,400 tonnes of chicken, of which 34 per cent, or close to 73,000 tonnes, came from Malaysia, according to the Singapore Food Agency. Almost half of the country’s chicken import – 48 per cent – was from Brazil. The remaining 18 per cent comprised imports from the United States and other countries.
The majority of Malaysia's chickens imported to Singapore arrives as live chickens. They are then killed and chilled in Singapore.
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