CNY drives consumer habits, good and bad

Lim Chee Han

Members of the public take part in the Chinese New Year light offering blessing ceremony at Fo Guang Shan Dong Zen Temple, Jenjarom, Selangor. – The Malaysian Insight pic by Nazir Sufari, January 23, 2023.

I REMEMBER my mother once told me that when she was a young kid back in the 1960s, she only got to eat chicken during the Chinese New Year (CNY) festive season.

Nowadays, chicken has become the most popular meat in the country.

In 2021, Malaysia’s poultry meat consumption of 49.7kg per capita was triple the world’s average (14.9kg) and also well above the OECD’s 32kg.

It could be that in those old days, meat was a luxury to many poor families, as the price may not have been as affordable as it is today.

For this year’s CNY festive season, among the eight controlled food items set by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Cost of Living are white pomfret, white shrimp, live pigs and pork (belly, meat and fat) as well as vegetables such as imported Chinese potatoes, round cabbage and garlic.

Chicken is not included because it has been a controlled item since last year. Yet, in terms of CNY festival ‘luxury’ meat items nowadays, obviously Chinese pomfrets and large shrimps (some say abalone and scallops as well) have replaced chicken, especially for the reunion dinner on the eve of the festival.

Reunion dinner is a special occasion for the year, when people return from all corners to the family home and have this meal.

It is usually prepared extensively to treat everyone at the gathering.

Most families are likely in the mood to splurge on more extravagant luxury foods. They feel proud and happy to share these on social media.

Aside from just the dinner dishes, Chinese families will normally also stock up CNY cookies, chips and crackers, barbequed meat, mandarins, and packet and carbonated drinks.

These are prepared for the visiting guests, but many family members find them irresistible and consume them before any arrivals.

Before CNY, shopping for such items is in reaction to seasonal promotions.

For example, news broke that a certain hypermarket chain was offering a deal for 100Plus and shandy.

Many people were alerted by word of mouth, text or pictures shared on social media. They stormed to the stores, with the items sold out on the very first day of the promotion.

There followed images of shoppers fighting to grab crates of drinks before these could be delivered to the shelves, with more images of queues of shoppers – trollies stacked high with crates – queuing for the check out. These are the herd mentality scenes to behold.

This phenomenon also induced panic buying, with others deciding these drinks are a must-have, and in greater quantities too.

Imagine; these drinks are hardly essential, let alone have any direct relevance to the festival.

Even the cookies and crackers have become the items that might keep the visitors’ conversation going.

Yet, even without those things, people can still chat and not have to worry about the amount of sugar and fats consumed.

Like other big festivals, CNY also tends to drive consumerism for new products, via various sales in the malls or on online platforms – from new clothes and shoes, to services like doing nails and hair.

This is fuelled by the preconceived mindset for many Chinese that they must wear everything new for the festival.

While spring cleaning the house to review and remove unwanted items is a good annual practice, adding new items to the closet and cupboard inventory just for the festival appearance may not be a wise decision for the household budget and for the environment.

You have to practise purchasing based on needs and not wants. Some clothes can still be in quite good condition after some years, and therefore you should not feel ashamed of wearing the same Sam Fu.

Legitimate reasons to purchase new clothing are replace items that have started to wear out or children simply growing out of the current fitting.

On a planet with finite resources and for the household with finite disposable income, we should encourage more thoughts to conserve our own resources and ask ourselves: “Do I really need this?”

It should not be equated to “thrifty”, but this could help overcome the impulse buying behaviour.

These savings might be useful in future for more necessary spending. In this way, I will say: Gong Xi Fa Cai, I just gave you tips to increase your fortune. – January 23, 2023.

* Lim Chee Han is a founding member of Agora Society and a policy researcher. He holds a PhD in infection biology from Hannover Medical School, Germany, and an MSc in immunology and BSc in biotechnology from Imperial College London. Health and socioeconomic policies are his concerns. He believes a nation can advance significantly if policymaking and research are taken seriously.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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