SINGAPORE: A prolonged circuit breaker in Singapore could pose a challenge to companies supplying disposable food containers, as demand for takeaway meals and food delivery soars amid stricter COVID-19 safe distancing measures.

While food container suppliers said that they have stocked up, some of them expressed concern about keeping up with increased demand during the month-long circuit breaker.

Director of New Modern Metal & Plastics Stephanie Ng said that her company had stocked up a one-month supply in anticipation of the new circuit breaker measures.

“Last week, I already communicated with the manufacturers in Malaysia to focus on the essential items (used in food takeaways),” said Ms Ng, whose company has seen about a 30 per cent increase in demand for their food containers.

Her supply is not affected by the movement control order in Malaysia, as her manufacturer there had already automated many of their processes, and is still able to produce even with reduced manpower, she said.

READ: ‘Circuit breaker’ rules to incur more pain for Singapore economy, job market: Experts

READ: COVID-19: Delivery and takeaway models unsustainable, say restaurant owners

Much of the increased demand comes from food and beverage (F&B) outlets “panic buying”, said operations director of Dillic International Priscilla Ng.

“Since the announcement by the Prime Minister last Friday, we registered an upsurge in sales from Friday evening onwards,” she said, noting that she has seen a flurry of enquiries via email, phone and on their online shop from old and new customers.

Demand for their generic food packaging has increased by 30 per cent, while demand for their customised food packaging has increased by 5 per cent. 

Customised packaging allows F&B companies to choose the type of packaging materials to be used. They can also design the look of the food packaging.

While the company has enough stocked up to last through March, and their regular supply from China has resumed, Ms Ng still foresees a shortage of food containers in the upcoming weeks.

“We are not given enough reaction time … There is no way we can get in our supplies that quickly,” she said, adding that the company needed two to three weeks to bring in new stock.

“So whatever stockpile we have in Singapore must be enough to last till then,” she said.

Across the industry, suppliers are trying to meet the increased demand, said Ms Jacqui Chua, director of SEA Trading.

Demand for their food packaging products has doubled overall and even tripled for certain products, she said, adding that supermarkets, butchers, hotels and dormitories are also buying more of their products.

“We’re one of those industries that are booming right now,” she said.

“Truckers are stretched, warehouse guys are stretched, suppliers and manufacturers are stretched. We see a huge demand from the ground and we want to meet that demand.”

While there are still some supply issues due to the movement control order in Malaysia, where they source most of their products, Ms Chua said that the company was doing its best to meet the additional demand.

“Customers are still demanding more, and on the supply side, we are trying our best to meet this increased demand. Some pockets of shortage will still exist,” she said.

“I do see that this will prolong as long as COVID-19 will be around. Unless the restrictions are eased on both sides of the Causeway.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans for a circuit breaker on Friday (Apr 3), four days before the new measures kicked in. The circuit breaker prohibits customers from dining-in at restaurants. Only food takeaways and deliveries will be permitted for F&B establishments from Apr 7 to May 4.

F&B OUTLETS NOT WORRIED ABOUT SUPPLY

F&B outlets told CNA that while the outlook on food takeaway and delivery is uncertain, they are not unduly worried about a shortage of food containers.

Ms Lim Li Xuan, business development manager of Kopifellas, which is a chain of several food and drink stalls, said that their supplier has reassured them that it will remain open during the circuit breaker. 

“Usually, (our supplier) takes two working days to send stock over. We will stocktake accordingly and if there is a shortage, we will order from them,” she said.

However, general manager of Wheeler’s Yard Amanda Ong said that the cafe was having difficulties getting hold of additional stock from suppliers, although they are not actively putting in orders. 

In total, Wheeler’s Yard has reached out to about four suppliers. Some have responded to say that supplies might be delayed, or that they will be slower to respond because of a manpower crunch.

“We’re trying to order more now, just that we can’t get hold of them. The suppliers are not replying, or are not able to. I guess because the entire Singapore’s F&B (industry) is trying to get hold of supplies,” she said.

“For us, how long our supplies can last, we don’t know. We don’t know how long it will be. It depends on the sales in the next few days.”

But Ms Ong added that she did not expect a shortage of food containers, as she had other avenues of support.

“The fact is that the F&B industry is quite close knit. If we don’t have enough of certain things, we can still ask friends and see if they have,” she said.

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