SINGAPORE - This year's mooncake season is likely to be a more muted affair as businesses shift their focus to online sales.
Even though the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on Oct 1, industry players are not hopeful that large-scale mooncake fairs in malls - which usually draw huge crowds out to sample the baked and snowskin treats - will happen in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many are expecting poorer sales and are trying to attract customers with new flavours and by dangling discounts.
The Straits Times understands that the highly anticipated annual mooncake fairs by Takashimaya Department Store and Tangs Singapore are likely to shift online. A smaller number of vendors may be allowed to retail mooncakes within the store premises. However, the number of visitors is likely to be restricted.
To support fellow mooncake retailers, Sinpopo Fairs - the sister company of chocolate cake chain Awfully Chocolate that organises events - has set up an e-commerce site which goes live next month for pre-orders.
The company handles storage at a food and beverage central warehouse, distribution in temperature-controlled food vehicles and delivery to customers. The site is also a one-stop shop for customers to combine purchases from different brand partners to get bulk discounts.
Ms Lyn Lee, 46, spokesman for Sinpopo Fairs, says the target of getting 20 brands on board has already been met, but is open to more businesses joining them.
Expect notable names in the mooncake scene such as Home's Favourite, Tai Chong Kok and The Peninsula Hong Kong, as well as offerings from hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore and Shangri-La Hotel Singapore.
Ms Lee, who is also the founder of Awfully Chocolate, says: "When it became clear that physical mooncake fairs would be cancelled or downsized, we decided to make the best out of a difficult situation."
She adds: "With the situation now, we doubt sampling will be allowed at the physical fairs even if they can go on with all the safe management rules."
Meanwhile, Mr Robert Han, general manager of Peony Jade restaurant, is sticking to two new flavours this time - flaky orh nee "cha cha", a spin on the bubur cha cha dessert; and chocolate durian snowskin.
He says: "When customers cannot sample your products, they will stick to what they know and like, such as durian, orh nee or the traditional baked ones. If you do something too exotic or use too many flavours, it cannot click with customers."
He starts taking pre-orders from July 19 via Peony Jade's website and Oddle, offering early-bird discounts of up to 25 per cent. But his brand's presence in malls will be reduced by half. Previously, he ran booths at about eight malls.
Local flavours are turning up in quite a few other creations.
New mochi-snowskin hybrid mooncakes from restaurant chain Swensen's include flavours such as salted gula melaka and kueh salat, while Crowne Plaza Changi Airport's assorted snowskin selection includes pandan kaya and orh nee.
For those looking to splurge, Goodwood Park Hotel offers a 16.5cm-wide baked mooncake ($108 nett) with white lotus seed paste and 12 salted egg yolks - launched in conjunction with its 120th anniversary. Pre-orders start next week.
Still, many businesses are expecting poorer sales this year and some are off to a slow start.
Mr Daniel Tay of Old Seng Choong - known for its cookies with local flavours and traditional bakes - has noticed a drop of at least 50 per cent in volume from interested parties this year.
Aside from being part of Mooncakefair.com and having his own e-store, Mr Tay is also planning to sell via Facebook Live sessions.
A Crystal Jade spokesman says people have lower budgets this year and sales have been "lukewarm". He adds: "Reduced demand for corporate gifting has lowered our projected production to about 50 per cent of the usual volume."
To encourage early purchases, many are offering attractive discounts.
Pan Pacific Singapore's Hai Tien Lo restaurant is taking 25 per cent off advance orders till July 31, while there is a 20 per cent discount (payment via Mastercard) for The Marmalade Pantry's mooncake collection for pre-orders made by Aug 16.
Over at Regent Singapore, all four- or eight-piece mooncake box purchases will be discounted by 30 per cent till Aug 23, while Grand Hyatt Singapore - which starts its e-store next week - is offering early-bird discounts of up to 35 per cent. Corporate bulk purchases get up to 50 per cent off.
For housewife Jill Phua, 48, the shift to buying mooncakes online is a convenient option.
She says: "I do enjoy the mooncake fairs and will miss going around to sample the products.
"However, I've become used to ordering food online during this period and now I can send mooncakes directly to my family and friends."