In a world where rising prices and economic challenges have become an everyday concern, a bold claim by Fuziah Salleh, Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade and Costs of Living, made headlines. She confidently declared that a mere RM200 could be sufficient to cover the essential grocery needs of a household.
In a recently resurfaced video, she showcased her grocery shopping, which included cooking oil, rice, biscuits, and more, resulting in a total bill of only RM136.30.
Her statement ignited a storm of controversy as netizens raised their voices in disagreement, arguing that her claim was far removed from the grim reality faced by many families. Fuziah later asserted that the video, recorded in July 2023, was taken out of context and released with ill intentions.
At that time, there was an issue saying that RM200 (for basic necessities) was not enough. So I conducted a survey at a supermarket and personally bought items there. The prices were slightly lower than other places that sell items under the ‘Jualan Rahmah’ brand, but you could fill a basket with money for less than RM200. However, my statement in the video refers to the situation at that time. – Fuziah Salleh, Deputy Minister of Domestic Trade and Costs of Living
The blazing reactions from netizens may have died down, and the video may have been ill-timed, but the reality of price hikes and expensive groceries is here to stay.
From shortages of chicken to the steadily rising prices of essential rice, 2023 has proven to be a challenging year for Malaysians, particularly those who are underprivileged. Within this ecosystem, soup kitchens and food aid organisations play a crucial role as lifelines, offering meals to help alleviate hunger.
If getting value for money is a tough task for most of us, imagine the struggle faced by those who provide for the underserved. In recognition of the formidable challenges they confront, we shed light on their concerns and grievances.
The Changing Trends: More In Need
The trends in food assistance are a barometer of the shifting socio-economic landscape.
According to the Food Aid Foundation, a non-profit non-governmental organisation collecting and distributing surplus, unused, or unwanted food, they reported significant changes in the number of households and individuals seeking food assistance in 2023. The demand for aid has surged, driven by economic uncertainties, price hikes, and the ongoing effects of the global pandemic.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced a significant surge in the number of communities seeking our assistance. This trend extends beyond local communities. We have also received an increase in inquiries from various other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to collaborate for different initiatives to help the underprivileged. – Izzul Nordin, Food Aid Foundation programme manager
This shift is directly linked to the increase in Malaysia’s urban poverty rate, which rose from 3.9% in 2019 to 4.5% in 2022 .
What was once an isolated struggle for the underprivileged has become a pervasive concern in Malaysian society. There is a noticeable change on the ground, with more individuals and families seeking food assistance. In addressing the multifaceted needs of beneficiaries, various organisations offer a range of food aid programs that extend beyond grocery provisions.
Justin Cheah, Kechara Soup Kitchen Society (KSK) operations director, noted a significant increase in the number of families they are assisting by 2022. Previously, they were helping around 2,000 families, but that number has risen to 3,200 per month .
Food prices have shown some moderation, fluctuating from 7% in February to 4.4% in July, the potential for further price increases remains due to the ever-present risk of supply disruptions and adjustments in domestic policies related to price subsidies and price ceilings.
These organisations are adapting to the new economic reality, sharing their challenges, strategising and mobilising to ensure that no one in the communities goes hungry.
Rising Costs, Smaller Portions
Most concede that constraints on their budget and resources are becoming more pronounced, especially in light of rice shortages in early September.
The rising cost has certainly taken a toll on the Food Aid Foundation, affecting its food pack distribution. Quantity and the food products that can be provided to the community they serve are forced to be cut back.
Previously, if you can give 10 kg of rice, you need to cut 5 kg of cooking oil, from 5 kg to 2 kg only. We could give quite a few products in the past, but the cost of living is increasing. The number of food products is getting less. – Izzul Nordin, Food Aid Foundation programme manager
Pit Stop Community Cafe had to discontinue the distribution of household care packs to families due to constraints in resources in 2022.
Due to resource issues, we recently ceased providing household care packs to families. However, we will continue to support the orphanages and shelters on our current list as much as we can through food rescue activities and sponsorships. – Joycelyn Lee, founder of Pit Stop Community Cafe 
In addition to food pack distributions, the Food Aid Foundation and Pit Stop Community Cafe also cook hot meals for the community they serve.
In addition to food packs, we also engage in cooking for our beneficiaries. It involves preparing food packs for distribution to those in need. We collaborate with companies that participate in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, where we cook a specified number of meals for the community and deliver them using our food truck. – Izzul Nordin, Food Aid Foundation programme manager
Another charitable organisation, KSK, is grappling with the rising cost of rice, which poses a significant threat to its operations.
Previously, rice was obtainable at RM26 for a 10kg bag, but now, the price has surged to over RM40 for the same quantity. This steep hike further exacerbates the financial burden on soup kitchens, making it challenging for us to sustain our operations without additional financial support. – Justin Cheah, Kechara Soup Kitchen Society (KSK) operations director
Kembara Kitchen, known for providing “Hero Meals’ to disaster victims and marginalised communities, also feels the impact of rising rice prices, which may result in a nominal cost increase per meal. They are also facing other cost increases and operational challenges as well.
The price of other ingredients and operational costs have also increased and together, we’re looking at something closer to a 10% increase in cost for this coming year. – William Cheah, founder of Kembara Kitchen
Similarly, Pit Stop Community Café is dealing with the consequences of increasing price tags, contemplating raising the cost of their sponsorship packages to sustain their operations. This social enterprise has been working tirelessly to combat homelessness, urban poverty, and hunger, but they are now forced to make tough decisions where due.
We had refrained from raising sponsorship meal package prices for two years despite the rising costs of eggs, chicken, vegetables, and utilities. We are planning to contemplate raising the cost of our sponsorship packages from RM12 per pack of food to anything between RM14 or RM15. – Joycelyn Lee, founder of Pit Stop Community Cafe
Pit Stop Community Cafe provides between 100 to 150 packs of hot meals on specific days, and in October 2023, they had to reduce the portions from 220 to 200 portions. The challenge of meeting the growing demand with limited resources continues to affect their operations.
The Grocery Math
How much does a household of four or an individual need for food and groceries in a month? While the Deputy Minister suggested that RM200 is sufficient, many low-income families cannot make ends meet.
The cost of providing for a household of four, including children, can easily surpass RM700, making it clear that RM200 is insufficient to cover basic expenses. At the Food Aid Foundation, the Menu Rahmah meals that are offered at RM 5 became their reference point.
In our calculations, we aim for a daily cost of around RM 3 per person, totalling RM6 Ringgit per day when considering both lunch and dinner. Over a month, this amounts to approximately RM 180 for an individual. RM 200 may be enough for an individual in KL, but for a family of 4, this may shoot up to RM 1,000 for 30 days. – Izzul Nordin, Food Aid Foundation programme manager
Previously, a meal set at KSK was priced at RM8.50. However, due to the changing economic conditions and increased costs, the same meal set now costs RM10 in 2022.
Similarly, food packs containing uncooked and non-perishable food items, which were previously priced at RM100, have seen an increase in cost and were priced at RM150 in 2022, and it’s safe to assume that these prices have continued to rise in today’s economic climate.
Poor and Hungry Still Need To Be Fed Despite Price Hikes
Amid uncertainties, the Food Aid Foundation is grateful that for over 10 years, they have built a long-standing partnership with manufacturers that consistently walked alongside them in their mission. They have established a monthly routine of contributing a set quantity of products, which the foundation, in turn, distributes to the residents based on availability.
Donations from the general public have remained relatively constant, showing little deviation from previous years, while corporate contributions, on the other hand, have exhibited some variations. At times, they would have to fork out additional funds to ensure the food packs maintain their quality standards.
We usually need to add an extra 5% to 10% when delivering to the People’s Housing Program (PPR) areas, as we need to combine different types of products from various sources. – Izzul Nordin, Food Aid Foundation programme manager
For these organisations, their mission goes beyond simply curbing hunger. It extends to providing not just sustenance, but also nutritious, well-balanced meals. At Pit Stop Community, their food pack is a delicate balance of essential food groups, including carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, and proteins like eggs and chicken.
This commitment to nutrition is non-negotiable, especially with the pressing issue of stunting in low-income communities.
We try to provide the vegetables in our food packs. That means that the community would at least have nutritious meals.– Izzul Nordin, Food Aid Foundation programme manager
The Deputy Minister’s bold claim that RM200 is all you need for groceries is a bargain, but the real-world grocery maths is more complex. The equation gets even trickier when we talk about households or individuals. The reality is that food costs can vary widely depending on factors like family size, location, and individual dietary needs, making it difficult to pinpoint a magic number for essential groceries.
The real heroes on the ground had to navigate the ever-changing grocery aisles of uncertainty and rising prices, all while juggling the diverse needs of countless individuals and households. Despite the complexities, these heroes press on, never swaying from their mission to ensure that no one goes to bed hungry.
Explore our sources:
- K. Devan. (2023).M’sian Minister Claims RM200 Is Enough For Groceries, Sparks Backlash From Netizens. weirdkaya.com. Link
- A.Azizan. (2023). RM200 Groceries: Dept Minister Says It’s an Old Video Taken Out of Context With Political Agendas. World of Buzz.Link
- H.N. Harun. (2023). Urban poverty rate in Malaysia rises from 3.9pct in 2019 to 4.5pct in 2022. New Straits Times. Link
- The Star. (2022). Cooking up goodwill at soup kitchens. Link
- The Star. (2023). Balancing food inflation and subsidy reforms. Link
- E.Easwaran. (2022). Soup kitchens struggle to cope with rising costs. Free Malaysia Today. Link
- S. Kasinathan. (2023). Soup kitchens in Malaysia fear soaring rice prices will affect mission to feed the needy. Malay Mail. Link