The suspension of fresh chicken imports from Malaysia is impacting chicken rice in Singapore. What’s the outlook for one of our most beloved national dishes?
Chicken rice - the OG comfort food for Singaporeans of all ages - is coming into the spotlight once again. The furore this time is over an expected hike in the prices of fresh chicken, driven by the suspension of fresh chicken imports from our northern neighbour, Malaysia.
As with any business, a higher cost of raw goods will inevitably lead to more expensive prices for the end consumer. This is because there is only so much that businesses can do to absorb the added costs, especially among hawker centre stall owners, where razor-thin profit margins are the norm rather than the exception.
So for the average chicken rice lover, what now? Are the days of cheap, delicious hearty plates of chicken over? Or is this all a storm in a teacup that will soon blow over?
Prices are rising across the board
Let’s zoom out a little and take a look at the big picture.
As you’re probably aware, the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have brought about supply chain shocks that are increasingly making their presence felt. Plus, with the U.S. Federal Reserve having little choice but to raise interest rates as crude oil prices continue to remain elevated, we’re very likely sitting on the edge of a global recession.
Recessions can be frightful, but if you understand they are simply a cyclic occurrence of the modern economic machine, it will help you draw up a plan for how to best capitalise on it (for example, a recession is a great time to buy up equities at a discount!).
However, what’s particularly worrying this time is that we are also poised for a period of food shortages across the globe.
That’s right, it’s not just chicken - we could soon be slapped with higher prices for commodities such as wheat, corn and other grains. Besides human consumption, these crops are also heavily used in the food supply chain (such as for animal feed, for instance), which raises the spectre of negative knock-on effects that could ripple through the entire food production chain.
In fact, the current macroeconomic outlook is so dire that no less than Jamie Dimon, billionaire CEO of investment firm JPMorgan, has raised warnings to brace for an economic hurricane.
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How much more is chicken expected to cost?
Ok, so things are looking bad all around the world, but what about our treasured chicken rice? How much more expensive will chicken become, given that Malaysia - from which we get one-third of our chicken supply - has stopped all chicken exports to Singapore since 1 June?
According to a Straits Times report, poultry sellers here expect a price hike of between 10% to 30%. Those are eye-popping figures, but don’t panic! Thanks to Singapore’s relatively stable and affordable food prices, that translates to a very small increase in actual dollar terms.
Indeed, another Straits Times report found that some consumers paid fifty cents more for their plate of chicken rice, while a kilogramme of raw chicken cost a dollar more. Fresh chicken thighs were also found to be more expensive by 25 cents for a 300g pack.
How long will chicken prices remain inflated?
Now, Malaysia has indicated that the export ban is only temporary, and will be lifted once domestic prices and conditions stabilise. However, no date for the lifting of the ban has yet been announced.
By the way, the export ban was brought about to help chicken farmers manage the cost of chicken feed, which has skyrocketed because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This is a prime example of the frailties of an increasingly globalised world.
Plus, the authorities aren’t simply sitting back and waiting for the situation to sort itself out. In particular, the Singapore Food Agency is keeping a close eye on the situation, assuring consumers that there is an adequate supply of frozen chicken as an alternative, as well as working with stakeholders to increase supply from alternative sources.
Besides, supplies of other meats are remaining steady - at least for now - which means Singaporeans have plenty of other alternatives to turn to, instead of competing for limited chicken stocks and driving the prices up even higher.
To be clear, Malaysia’s export ban really only affects the price of fresh chicken, as almost all of our poultry imported from Malaysia is live chicken, which are then slaughtered and chilled locally.
While chicken rice sellers - which almost exclusively use fresh chicken - are right now feeling the impact, the likely scenario is that they will adapt to using frozen chicken (along with other adjustments such as removing smaller portions) in order to stay in business.
As such, is it not unreasonable to believe that the price of chicken will soon stabilise, and we will be able to continue indulging in our chicken rice obsession for the foreseeable future, even if we may have to pay slightly more for the privilege.
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Singapore’s best chicken rice stalls - are they still affordable?
|Chicken rice stall||Address||Price|
|Boon Tong Kee||Various outlets||Signature Boiled Chicken (half): S$21.60|
|Wee Nam Kee||Various outlets||Chicken Rice (1 pax): S$7.50|
|Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice||56 Smith Street, S058961||Steamed Hainanese Chicken Rice: From S$3.30|
|Five Star Chicken Rice||Various outlets||Standard Chicken Rice Set (1 pax): S$6.40|
|Chin Chin Eating House||19 Purvis St, S188598||Steam or Roast Chicken: S$14 (half), S$28 (whole)|
|Katong Delicious Boneless Chicken Rice||865 Mountbatten Road, Katong Shopping Centre, B1-85/87 S437844||Chicken Rice (1 pax): From S$7.12|
|Nam Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant||201 Upper Thomson Road, S574343||Hainanese Steamed Chicken (Whole): S$15|
|Tian Tian Chicken Rice||Various outlets||Chicken Rice (1 pax): From S$3.50|
|Loy Kee Best Chicken Rice||342 Balestier Road, S329774||Special Set (1 pax): S$9|
Man, all this talk about chicken rice is making me hungry, so I thought I’d end off the article by attempting to answer the burning question - is your favourite chicken rice stall still affordable? Can you still go for your weekly chicken binge without burning a hole in your pocket?
Here’s what I found from online sources - bear in mind that the information presented in the table above may not be 100% updated to reflect the latest prices. Also, some of these are online delivery prices, so it’s likely you pay even less if you pay a visit in person.
And as you can see, the prices of some of Singapore’s most popular chicken rice sellers - from hawker stars to classic restaurants - haven't seemed to go up by very much at all. The prices I found still seem fairly typical, and nothing particularly egregious stands out.
So it seems that for the time being at least, chicken rice remains an affordable indulgence for us lucky Singaporeans.