Roaring trade lures back wary retailers
Austin Chiu, Carrie Lok and Agnes Lam
More chicken retailers will be back in business today after resumption of live poultry sales yesterday at the end of a 21-day ban drew an enthusiastic response from customers.
Stocks were sold out by noon at the 270 outlets - 180 wet market stalls and 90 fresh food shops - that reopened under a ban on keeping live birds overnight that deterred others.
The wholesale price ranged from HK$10 to HK$14 a catty, while the average retail price was HK$30, HK$5 less than the price before the ban was imposed to stop a bird flu outbreak.
Housewives rushed to the markets to buy chickens in the morning to compete for the limited supply of 7,000 mainland and 18,000 local birds. The supply will go up to 33,000 chickens today. Quarry Bay Market retailer Ms Wong said she sold out before 11am and would order more stock to meet demand.
Lai Kin-ying, who runs a stall in the Tai Po complex, said she regretted not ordering more chickens.
Despite worries that her refrigerator would be too small to hold unsold stock that had to be slaughtered at the end of trading, she said she would double her order because she had sold all her chickens before 11am.
Another vendor, Lam Shuk-chi, said she would also increase her stock today from 60 to 80 because some customers had made orders.
Some retailers who did not resume business visited wet markets to assess the effect of the new ban on stocking live chickens overnight.
Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association chairman Steven Wong Wai-chuen warned retailers to be cautious and not overly encouraged by the reaction from diehard fans of live chicken. 'This is only the first day and supply is limited,' he said. 'Of course, it is easier for retailers to sell all the birds. But more stalls will open as operators have to cover rents and salaries.
'Also, retailers only ordered a very limited number of live chickens and they will find it hard to make a profit if they continue to do business like this.'
He said all chickens sent to retail stalls had sold out. Despite the quick sales, none of the retailers ordered more live chickens from wholesalers as they were worried about having leftovers. About 550 birds were left unsold at the wholesale market in Cheung Sha Wan last night.
Kowloon Poultry Transporter and Poulterer Association chairman Wong Tak-leung said collecting live chickens from the wholesale market more than once a day was not feasible. 'We transport maybe about 20 cages of live chickens in the morning to different retailers. But how many cages will they order later in the day? Possibly a few and that cannot cover the operation cost,' he said.
Poultry Wholesalers Association chairman Tsui Ming-tuen said he was optimistic. 'I am very happy about the sales. About 90 per cent of the chickens were sold by 5am. I think this trade will have a future.'
But Mr Wong said up to 80 per cent of the retailers would surrender their licences. 'There is little room for us to survive. The government wants to drive us out of business,' he said.
Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said the government had proposed a package for live poultry traders who chose to surrender licences or tenancies. 'There is a limit to the amount of ex-gratia payments and there is not much room for adjustment. I hope the traders will consider the package carefully.'
Today's chicken supply will be 10,000 imported chickens and 23,000 from local farms, giving a total of 33,000