Fish farms turn to home delivery to stave off Malaysian rivals

Ah Hua Kelong's Mr Wong Jing Kai weighing a batch of green mussels during his delivery run. The seafood is delivered within 12 hours of its harvest. Mr Terence Tee, 38, receiving his order from Ah Hua Kelong's business development manager, Mr Wong Ji
Ah Hua Kelong's Mr Wong Jing Kai weighing a batch of green mussels during his delivery run. The seafood is delivered within 12 hours of its harvest. Mr Terence Tee, 38, receiving his order from Ah Hua Kelong's business development manager, Mr Wong Jing Kai. On a busy day, the fish farm makes deliveries to 30 to 40 customers.PHOTOS: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Ah Hua Kelong's Mr Wong Jing Kai weighing a batch of green mussels during his delivery run. The seafood is delivered within 12 hours of its harvest. Mr Terence Tee, 38, receiving his order from Ah Hua Kelong's business development manager, Mr Wong Ji
Ah Hua Kelong's Mr Wong Jing Kai weighing a batch of green mussels during his delivery run. The seafood is delivered within 12 hours of its harvest. Mr Terence Tee, 38, receiving his order from Ah Hua Kelong's business development manager, Mr Wong Jing Kai. On a busy day, the fish farm makes deliveries to 30 to 40 customers.PHOTOS: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Instead of jostling in a wet market or going to the supermarket, some people are getting the daily catch sent to their homes.

Several coastal fish farms here have started or are starting home deliveries of seafood to cash in on demand and keep abreast of rivals from Malaysia.

Ah Hua Kelong, off Lorong Halus in the north-east coast, introduced the service in April this year; a group of nine other coastal fish farms plan to launch an online store offering home deliveries by next March.

These new services are partly to help the Singapore farms compete against Malaysian peers, which can sell seafood cheaper to Singapore wholesalers as they have lower operational costs.

Industry players say farms in Malaysia can sell their seafood at wholesale prices several dollars lower per kg than local farms.

Ah Hua Kelong business development manager Wong Jing Kai, 25, said: "Highly price-sensitive intermediaries and restaurants expect the same prices from us."

Home deliveries also help the kelong diversify income sources.

Said its creative and marketing manager, Mr Bryan Ang, 25: "In the past, we relied heavily on exports. A big ship from Hong Kong would berth at our farm and buy almost everything we had annually. However, in 2014, this ship did not arrive... We realised we needed more distribution channels."

According to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, there are 116 local coastal fish farms and 6,775 tonnes of seafood were produced here last year. Seafood from elsewhere make up a big part of the supply here, with 140,348 tonnes imported last year.

At Ah Hua Kelong, orders have nearly doubled over the last six months for its home deliveries, placed online or over the phone.

Flower crabs, mussels and four main types of fish, including sea bass and golden pomfret, are delivered within 12 hours of their being harvested. Delivery is free, except for orders below $40, which incur $8 for the trip.

Prices go from $10 to $20 per fish, about 600g in size on average. Live mussels cost $8 per kg, while live flower crabs cost $30 per kg. The prices can sometimes be around 40 per cent higher than those found in markets.

For example, a 600g golden pomfret costs $6.30 from a FairPrice outlet and $6 from a wet market in Toa Payoh. Ah Hua Kelong sells it at $10.

But some are willing to pay more for convenience and freshness. Said Mr Ivan Aw, 40, a vice-president at a local bank: "When I go to wet markets, I am likely to rush into buying something because everyone is crowding around and jostling. When I shop online for the fish, there is no hassle."

Ms Celine Tee, a headhunter in her late 30s, described the seafood she had bought from Ah Hua Kelong as "very sweet" and fresh.

"There is also that personal touch because they tell you how to keep the seafood fresh and give suggestions on how to prepare it. It is kind of like how mothers form relationships with wet-market sellers," she added.

Besides Ah Hua Kelong and the nine farms, others have expressed interest in home deliveries.

Metropolitan Fishery Group, which runs four coastal fish farms, has had queries on home delivery every month, from one to two for the whole of last year.

Mr Malcolm Ong, 51, who runs the group, said: "We are not really distributors, we are farmers.

"Right now we are focused on our core business, but we are considering having an online store, possibly not too far in the future."

cherylw@sph.com.sg