HK seeing mealbox boom

Quick and simple: Customers choosing dishes for their mealboxes at Kitty’s restaurant in Hong Kong. — AFP

Hong Kong: Hong Konger Kitty Chan pivoted to takeout to help her restaurant survive the pandemic, but she has since opened a second shop as demand for cheap mealboxes surges in a city enduring economic woes.

Small shops selling inexpensive two-dish mealboxes have mushroomed across one of the world’s least affordable cities, cropping up in working-class and white-collar areas alike as people tighten their belts.

“The Covid-19 restrictions were a catalyst,” she said at her restaurant in Kowloon, one of the world’s most densely populated city districts, as a queue of hungry patrons snaked down the street.

“There are multiple factors in this city that make us many people’s kitchen.”

Hong Kong took an economic hit in 2019 when months of democracy protests kept visitors away and helped tip the city into a prolonged recession.

More than two and a half years of strict Covid controls have again pushed the Asian finance hub into negative growth.

Hong Kong finance chief Paul Chan warned yesterday that there is a “very high chance” the city will end the year in a full-blown recession while the fiscal deficit may balloon to HK$100bil (RM58.18bil), twice the initial estimates.

The mealbox boom “is similar to the emergence of dollar shops during the (2008) financial crisis,” said Andy Kwan, director of the ACE Centre for Business and Economic Research think tank.

“People tend to spend less when the economy is not well and confidence is low,” he added.

Kitty’s restaurants are selling 2,000 to 3,000 mealboxes per day at around HK$48 (RM27.90).

Mealboxes go for anything from HK$25 to HK$80 (RM14.50 to RM46.50) depending on ingredients and shop locations, and many include a drink or soup.

To compete in what is now a crowded market, Kitty tries to supply the kind of food you can get in a sit-down restaurant – mostly wok-fried Cantonese dishes such as black pepper beef short ribs, steamed fish and razor clams.

Her strategy has attracted a mostly white-collar clientele.

“The two-dish mealbox is a very interesting entry point to observe our economy,” said Fred Ku, an economist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Ku said that while the two-dish restaurant had long been a feature of the city, “the consumers’ perception has changed and these mealboxes are no longer a symbol of relatively low income”.

China and Hong Kong have largely escaped the runaway inflation seen across the globe.

However, food in particular has become more expensive – Kitty estimates that her grocery purchases have risen about 20% this year. — AFP

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mealboxes , restaurant , takeout , Hong Kong


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