Has ‘gold’ lost its shine?

There is a drop in demand for Mandarin oranges this year due to the escalating price

By LYDIA NATHAN & FARA AISYAH / Pic By AFIF ABD HALIM

IF THE orange symbolises gold according to the Chinese, it might have lost a bit of its lustre this Chinese New Year (CNY).

A random check by The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) reveals that the sale of Mandarin oranges this CNY is lower than previous years, as the prices have increased slightly.

The Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) national council member and SME (small and medium enterprises) and HRD (human resources development) committee chairman Koong Lin Loong said the weaker ringgit is one of the many factors that had affected the Mandarin orange prices.

“Most Mandarin oranges are imported, especially from China, and the yuan has strengthened against the ringgit, making it a little more expensive for us.

“Logistics issues including oil price — on top of the shops’ rentals which are definitely not cheaper than last year — have added more cost of doing businesses and indirectly affecting the price for the goods,” Koong told TMR.

Koong said people usually buy Mandarin oranges to give to others as a symbol of prosperity, instead of buying it for themselves.

Hence, there is always a “safety margin” for the Mandarin orange business as there will always be demand for them, although it might be lesser.

In Selangor, a sundry shop owner’s assistant Rozi Zainal said there is a drop in demand for Mandarin oranges this year due to the escalating price.

“Our stocks for Mandarin oranges this CNY is so much lesser compared to the previous year because the price has increased.

“Last year, we took a lot of stock because there was demand and bookings from our customers, but we had none this year. So, we are only bringing in small stocks of oranges for this year,” Rozi told TMR.

As such, Rozi added that it is taking a longer time for the shop to sell out its Mandarin oranges this year despite the small amount.

The price of medium or large-sized oranges had increased by RM2, ranging from RM16 to RM24 per box, or 4kg.

Pan Eu Jin, 29, agreed that it is “mandatory” to buy Mandarin oranges for CNY to gift to his relatives and friends.

Nevertheless, he said people have been buying Mandarin oranges less than the previous years.

“It is noticeable that people are buying less this time, especially when stalls are still clearing stocks after the first two days of CNY celebrations.

“They are expensive nowadays and people are just spending lesser in general,” Pan added.

As reported by TMR in October 2017, retail spending has been on the lower side in the past months.

Retail Group Malaysia MD Tan Hai Hsin said the retail sector performance is dependent on the country’s economic conditions.

“When the economic growth is broad-based, more Malaysians will have higher take-home pays. Higher income means higher purchasing power,” Tan told TMR.

He added that retail growth has been muted due to the rising cost of living and weaker consumer sentiments.

Nevertheless, red lanterns will still be hung and ang pow packets will still change hands.

While Mandarin oranges did not make it to certain households’ must-buy list, the decorative plant that embodies good luck known as the “gold orange”, or kumquat, is still popular to usher in prosperity and good omen.

Retailer Tang Nursery in Sungai Buloh — which has been in operation since 2001 — has recorded encouraging sales for the citrus plant that, for centuries, has had a deep symbolic meaning in the Chinese tradition as it mirrors prosperity.

Tang Nursery manager Chang Wooi Siang said the sales of the plant had increased a little, despite the nursery having lower stock this year.

“This year, we had some 40% less stock compared to 2017, mainly because of the amount of rain we’ve had. It’s been more difficult for the growers to produce good quality ones.

“We sold out two weeks before CNY, and we started stocking the plant about a month ago. So far, we’ve sold about 200 to 250 pots already,” he told TMR in a telephone interview.

The “Sei Gwai Gat”, as it is called, is a four-season lime plant grown in Sungai Buloh and it costs between RM70 and RM200 per pot, according to the size.

To ensure the sale of the plant, some nurseries chose to offer heavy discounts.

“I remember last year having to put up more decorations on the tree to attract our customers. Kumquat takes four months to bear fruit before it drops, if not plucked. So, it can take up space and needs attention.

“Once the fruit drops, we lower the price of the plant. Some people still purchase it so they can plant it in the ground themselves,” Chang said.

He also warned that the kumquats grown for CNY cannot be eaten, as there are too many chemicals on it.

Instead, only fruits produced after the first batch has dropped can be consumed.

Chang said the plant is only grown once a year, just in time for the CNY season.

He added that while he had some concerns over sales for 2018, he was pleasantly surprised when it picked up.

“The demands for kumquat increased, sadly we did not have enough stock this year.

“We plan to start early with preparations next year, so we can attain better sales. Better weather would be an added bonus too, so growers won’t face any issues and the trees grown will have good quality,” he said.