Pandemic takes big bite out of ‘kacang putih’ sales


Kampung Kacang Putih in Buntong, Ipoh, is devoid of customers these days. – Photos: RONNIE CHIN/The Star

IT IS unusually quiet in the normally bustling Kampung Kacang Putih in Buntong, Ipoh.

The area, famous for its Indian tidbits and snacks, used to be crowded with busloads of local and foreign tourists, particularly during weekends.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed that. Nowadays, hardly any vehicles can be seen on the village streets as tourism has been curtailed by movement restrictions.

This famous village with its 11 or so shops had been a choice destination for travellers seeking the popular Indian traditional snacks that have been made and sold by generations of family vendors here.

According to the manufacturers, business has been really slow, with some claiming it has dropped by up to 80% since the start of the pandemic.

The manufacturers are also unable to lower the prices of the snacks because the costs of raw materials such as cooking oil, flour and chilli powder have increased.

Kampung Kacang Putih’s beginnings date back to the 1920s, when a group of about 10 persons from India started a small business making Indian snacks (loosely referred to as “kacang putih”) at a settlement located at the foot of a limestone hill in Gunung Cheroh, Ipoh.

But the business, ironically, started flourishing after a tragedy.

In the early 1970s, a part of the Cheroh Hill collapsed onto the squatter colony, killing 40 residents.

To prevent another disaster from occuring, the Perak government allocated land in the Buntong area to relocate affected residents.

From then on, the growth of Ipoh city meant brisk business for the spicy, tasty kacang putih — a collective name for a variety of roasted, deep-fried or steamed nuts such as omapodi, fried peanuts, murukku, fried tapioca chips and fried lentils.

The descendants of the Gunung Cheroh settlement in Buntong produce over 20 varieties of kacang putih.

Sathis showing some of the many varieties of traditional Indian snacks sold at his shop.Sathis showing some of the many varieties of traditional Indian snacks sold at his shop.

DNS Kacang Putih Buntong chief executive officer S. Sathis Kumar, 30, said business has not been the same since the first lockdown in March last year.

It has dropped by 75% because a majority of his customers were tourists from other states.

“And during festivals like Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Deepavali, we were overwhelmed by orders but no more.

“With no weddings, engagements, birthdays and social functions allowed, our business has been affected.

“Also, with smaller vendors unable to sustain themselves, our supply has also decreased,” he lamented.

Many traders are unable to rely on walk-ins due to inter-state travel restrictions.

“Thus online platforms are the preferred choice to sell our products, for the moment at least.”

Sathis said those looking for business opportunities could approach him.

“They can start a small business selling our snacks.

“I will supply the products and also teach them packaging methods,” he said.

Kalaiarasi has started selling Indian sweetmeats at her family shop in Buntong.Kalaiarasi has started selling Indian sweetmeats at her family shop in Buntong.

Most Kampung Kacang Putih wholesalers have taken their business online as sales have been more promising.

Another producer-trader T. Seenivasagan, 27, from Selvam Malar Enterprise said he started selling kacang putih products on e-commerce platforms and via his company website.

This has been attracting customers from other states.

Since the start of the pandemic, production has gone down to 30%.

“Small-time traders taking goods from us have reduced their purchases.

“Because of changing trends, we don’t display as many products in the shop as we used to because our focus is more on online purchases.”

Seenivasagan is the fourth generation in his family running the store.

PKH Enterprise manager P. Kalaiarasi, 26, said the Kampung Kacang Putih traders could no longer depend on walk-in customers as they did prior to the pandemic.

She said, “Back then, we hardly had any time to rest on weekends, as there were crowds until closing time.”

Their supply too had to be reduced because of fewer roadside peddlers due to the restrictions.

Production used to be five times a week, but they have reduced it to thrice a week.

“It is pointless to keep producing in great quantities.

“We now rely on online sales, especially orders from regular customers in other states,” she said.

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Kampung Kacang Putih , Buntong , Ipoh , covid-19

   

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