BUTTERWORTH: Not too long ago, Nazrul Akmam Noor Hisham was operating a fleet of about 150 rental cars in several states.

These days, he runs a retail shop in Bertam, Kepala Batas, selling premium meats from steaks to lamb and even Boston lobster, oysters and scallops.

“I went into this after suffering major losses in my car rental business in April last year,” said Nazrul Akmam, 34.

The pandemic might have closed that business of his but he saw a new opportunity: demand for premium foodstuffs in Bertam, near the border with Kedah.

Back then, the movement restrictions meant that Bertam folk had difficulty going into town for such goodies.

Another pull factor for him was that food-related businesses were allowed to operate during the movement control order.

So he learned the ropes, contacting wholesalers to understand the supply terms, and checking with the local authority on the necessary licences and regulatory compliance.

“Initially, most of our customers ordered online. Few walked in. We got about 20 orders daily, but that was good enough as they bought in large quantities.

“Now we get many walk-in customers. I plan to open new outlets in other places,” he said.

In George Town, frozen food distributor Warren Tan observed the burgeoning of grocery stores and mini markets, as seen in the four-fold increase in the number of vendors whom he supplies since the lifting of movement restrictions.

“Before the MCO, I would get a new vendor every two months. Now I get two new vendors each month,” he said.

Tan, 34, said that high-quality, ready-to-eat food was in demand.

“You just heat it up,” he said, adding that consumers were paying close attention to the lists of ingredients and nutritional tables and he believes consumers now have an increased awareness of healthy eating.

In Kulim, Kedah, 51-year-old Abdul Wahab Abdul ran a printing shop for over 10 years but the pandemic struck and his customers – schools and offices – were not operating.

“I suffered badly. But in mid-2020, I noticed that people were struggling to get a good variety of food, so I opened an outlet to sell fresh and frozen food and provided delivery.

“The response was good and it was a win-win for me and the consumers,” he said.

Seberang Prai Coffee Shop and Eatery Owners Association chairman Lee Kok Yong estimates that the number of F&B outlets, especially cafes, have increased by about 40%.

Young entrepreneurs, he said, led the way in opening modern, chic cafes.