By Charlotte Chong
When times are down, sales of instant noodles go up.
And this has been proven yet again, in recent months when businesses suffered, jobs were lost and salaries trimmed in the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world.
In Malaysia, producers of instant noodles reported demand shooting up to 55 percent in recent months after the government introduced restrictions to curb the movement of people and economic activities to combat the spread of the virus which causes the deadly Covid-19 disease.
Local convenient chain store KK Supermart and Superstore Sdn. Bhd. has been doing such a roaring business with instant noodles with sales skyrocketing by 92 percent in March after the government enforced a nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18.
Its founder KK Chai told NNA, “We are stocking up more because of the very strong demand for instant noodles during this period."
Among the popular brands were Maggi, Mamee and Mie Sedaap brands, but Maggi led the pack, he said.
As most business activities came to a standstill in shutdowns, earnings vanished for many while others had to work from home and count every dollar that they managed to earn.
Mamee Double-Decker Sdn. Bhd. saw its sales soaring 55 percent more within the first month of lockdown when people bought more noodles to stock up. During the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, sales rose by 16 percent, the company reported.
Affordably priced instant noodles, ranging from 3.6 to 4.7 ringgit ($0.8 to 1.08) for a bag of 5 packets and on the average to 2.69 ringgit for a big cup or bowl, became a boon for many controlling their spending.
It also became a convenient, easy-to-prepare meal for those busy working at home and didn't wish to cook or go out to buy food.
How Yuan Yi, assistant marketing director of Mamee Double-Decker, said demand from overseas markets also went up, by a good 16 percent amid the global pandemic. The company exports its products to more than 80 countries, he said, adding that Mama Chef was among its best sellers.
Also reporting a sharp rise in demand for its range of MyKuali noodles, Penang-based Sky Thomas Food Industries Sdn. Bhd. recorded a 35 percent increase in sales during the lockdown period. Among its choices for consumers are Penang White Curry, Penang Hokkien Prawn Noodle, Red Tom Yum Gong Noodles and Fish Broth Rice Vermicelli.
Maureen Yeoh, marketing business development director of Sky Thomas Food, is expecting overall sales in the third and fourth quarter to climb up by 50 percent. She said its export to the United States alone has seen a 20 percent growth since January this year.
Pleased with its leading market position, Nestlé (Malaysia) Berhad said sales of its Maggi 2 Minute Noodles and curry variant have been brisk although it declined to give figures.
CEO Juan Aranols told NNA that stockpiling in Malaysia has been moderate and there were only a few episodes of panic buying.
“This is good as it avoids disruptions to our operations and ensures we keep a steady flow of goods across our value chain,” he said.
According to a business intelligence report by Euromonitor International released in October last year, Nestle, which manufactures Maggi Mee, was the market leader commanding an impressive 45.9 percent share in Malaysia.
Wings Corp, which produces Mie Sedaap, was second with 15.5 percent. Trailing very close behind was Mamee-Double Decker (M) Sdn. Bhd. which had a 15.2 percent share.
However, Nestle Malaysia saw a dip in its business with eateries using its noodles during the first quarter as more people stopped eating out after the outbreak spread.
Apart from Maggi, MyKuali Penang and Mamee, other brands that have carved out a presence on supermarket shelves include Mee Daddy, Ibumie, Mie Sedaap, Nongshim and Vit’s Instant Noodles.
In fact, the retail market for instant noodles in Malaysia has enjoyed a steady growth in recent years. It grew 4.6 percent from 2 billion ringgit in 2018 to 2.12 billion ringgit in 2019. In 2017, the market size stood at 1.94 billion ringgit, according to Euromonitor.
While local makers rolled out new flavors to compete with one another, trends such as the Hallyu wave have created demand for Korean-style instant noodles especially among younger consumers.
Euromonitor said in its report then, “Domestic distributors are expected to import an increasing number of Korean instant noodles brands including hot and spicy chicken ramen, cheese ramen and spicy kimchi to cater to varied consumer tastes."
Attesting to the expected popularity, Korean food distributor KMT Jaya Sdn. Bhd. said demand for its noodles had jumped 30 percent. Its best seller is the well-known Nongshim Farmer's Heart in its signature all-red packaging.
But its managing director Benny Lim is foreseeing consumer purchasing power to weaken as the world economy including that of Malaysia has been devastated by the pandemic.
Nevertheless, Lim believes that the Korean noodles, which cost more than locally produced ones, might appeal more to middle-income earners.
Meanwhile, Malaysia has extended its Movement Control Order four times, to June 9.