Long queues for bak kwa at Lim Chee Guan in Chinatown ahead of Chinese New Year

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SINGAPORE - Shoppers thronged Lim Chee Guan's Chinatown outlet to stock up on festive bak kwa ahead of Chinese New Year, forcing it to deploy more staff to ensure safe distancing was observed.

The heritage brand said in a Facebook post on Jan 11 that its signature sliced pork item and most of its barbecued products were sold out online. Responding to queries from The Straits Times on Tuesday (Jan 25), it said the online shop, which opened on Jan 3, is sold out.

When ST visited its flagship store in New Bridge Road on Tuesday afternoon, there was a long queue and customers had to queue for about an hour. Many customers visited the outlet as the online shop was sold out.

A Lim Chee Guan spokesman told ST that more customers went online to purchase its products compared with last year.

"They would be able to order in the comfort of their homes without needing to queue for their bak kwa," she said, adding that customers who ordered their goodies online this year could choose delivery or self-collection.

Customers ST spoke to said they were not bothered by rising Covid-19 cases as they were vaccinated and following safe distancing measures at the shop.

When asked if its bak kwa prices have increased from previous years, the spokesman said its signature sliced pork is priced at $36 per 500g pack - compared with $34 last year.

"This will be the standard pricing throughout the 2022 CNY period," she said.

Miss Li Biru, 24, a Chinese national studying in Singapore Management University, queued for an hour to buy it as she had heard good things about the brand.

She said in Mandarin: "I decided to buy only at the last minute. I went to the shop as I heard that the online shop was sold out."

On the Covid-19 risk, she said: "I have not paid attention to Covid-19 for quite a while and with the adherence to safe management measures and being vaccinated, I am not too worried."

Mr Nigel Koh, 29, also queued for an hour to buy bak kwa for his company.

"There aren't many brands locally that offer the same taste as Lim Chee Guan. It's one of the better ones in the market. Even though I have to queue for it, it's worthwhile to soak in the festive atmosphere, especially since I'll have family and friends visiting who will enjoy it."

The queue outside the Lim Chee Guan outlet at Chinatown at around 3.30pm, on Jan 25, 2022. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Regarding the risk of getting Covid-19, he said: "I feel that sooner or later we will get infected, but as long as we put on masks and observe safe distancing measures, we should be safe for now."

Asked if he was bothered by the price increase, he said: "It's the festive season, so the price will increase. We shouldn't take it too hard."

Accountant Cynthia Toh, 30, did not mind the price increase as she buys bak kwa only once a year.

An employee from Lim Chee Guan holds up a notice informing customers that the bak kwa has sold out for the day, on Jan 25, 2022. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Meanwhile, other bak kwa shops in Chinatown like Bee Cheng Hiang and Fragrance saw few customers when ST visited on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Fragrance said online sales improved by at least 5 per cent compared to last year, noting a higher demand for home delivery during the pandemic.

But the spokesman added that sales were still not back to pre-pandemic levels.

The company has staff ensuring safe distancing at the shops. A shopper at Fragrance's Chinatown outlet, who declined to be named, said: "I wanted to buy Lim Chee Guan but did not want to queue so I bought Fragrance."

He said he did not want to buy it online. "With so many scams going on, I don't want to expose my card to online shops. I'm not confident of making online purchases."

Bee Cheng Hiang has priced its sliced pork at $62 per kg, Lim Chee Guan charges $72 per kg for its signature sliced pork, while Fragrance sells its signature sliced bak kwa for $60.

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