PETALING JAYA: Inflation and unstable weather have led to a lower supply of festive goods but there are still abundant choices for Malaysians shopping for Chinese New Year.

“The variety is still there for consumers; it’s just that businesses are keeping a smaller inventory this year due to some price increases,” said SME Association of Malaysia president Ding Hong Sing.

For example, he said the demand is there for mandarin oranges, bak kwa (barbequed meat slices), festive snacks and nuts, and dried seafood despite a slight increase in price.

“Inflation and other factors have caused various economic challenges and a lower global output.

“Although this would be the first time we can celebrate in full (following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions), businesses have been cautious and did not place big orders for most festive items.

“Even the costs have somewhat increased. While businesses have limited funds, consumers’ spending power has also dwindled,” he added.

Ding foresees Malaysians celebrating Chinese New Year would be more thrifty.

Sekinchan Fishermen and Fish Traders Welfare Association president Chia Choon Theng agreed, saying that consumers are buying less.

“They are careful about spending for the festive season, but this does not mean they will skip any festive item,” he said.

Chia said prices of some rare seafood items have skyrocketed due to low supply.

“For example, the Chinese pomfret (dou chang yu) was slightly more expensive this year because fishermen could not go to sea due to the bad weather,” he said, adding that it could go up to RM120 per kg.

Other festive favourites such as grouper, snapper, black and white pomfret and threadfin have also seen a slight price increase due to low supply.

Chia, who also sells dried seafood, said diversifying suppliers has helped his business.

“We get from suppliers who work with different source countries, so we can still keep our prices reasonable.

“Consumers who want to stretch their ringgit will have to compare prices,” he added.

Bak kwa seller Tan Gim Heng said the meat snacks are about 10% more expensive this year.

“However, our reservations have been good, making up 70% of our total orders.

“I think people will buy more as Chinese New Year approaches,” said Tan, who is based in Klang.

Fruit importer and seller KT Wong, who runs his business in Melaka, said mandarin oranges began arriving in Malaysia early this month.

“China saw a good harvest of mandarin oranges, so we get to enjoy many choices now.

“There is some slight increase in prices, but nothing more than RM2 per box for the medium-sized fruit.

As for large mandarin oranges, he said traders would likely sell them in loose form and not by boxes.

Wong, who has been in the business for over two decades, said he is still hoping for better sales as mandarin oranges were seen as a festive necessity.

Florence Teo, who operates a nursery in Seremban, said festive plants were available at good prices.

“Although many things have gone up in price, most nurseries are maintaining their prices.

“So, the price of festive plants like bamboo, kumquat tree and other potted flowers are the same as before.

“Most of our festive plants are from local farmers, only 10% are from China,” she added.

Teo said she was keeping a normal inventory instead of increasing her orders for the festive season.

“The choices are still there for consumers wanting a lively and colourful celebration,” she added.

Malaysia Federation of Hawkers and Petty Traders Associations president Voon Chin Leong said hawkers would be more prudent in making their orders for ingredients due to concerns that consumers might hold back on their spending.

Association deputy president Ong Kee Tea, who is based in Kedah, found that people’s spending habit had changed in view of the tough economy and inflation pushing prices higher everywhere.

“They are still spending, but they are more prudent even though the festive season is coming,” he said.

He added that night market hawkers would open their stalls from 5pm till midnight, but now the crowds have dropped significantly with barely anyone coming in after 8pm.

“We are worried that even with the arrival of Chinese New Year, hawkers’ business will still not pick up,” said Ong.