Nope, I am not talking about the quality of food here. Apparently, in a bid to maintain profitability in the midst of increase cost of supplied goods, hawkers have turned to reducing the amount of food that you get on your plate – instead of increase the cost of their food. I guess this explains why I had been finishing my plate of food recently since I am a small eater. For once, I thought I was having a "regular" diet like everyone else, but it turned out to be otherwise. This probably explains why my plate of chicken rice from a particular canteen in a university located in the west has started reducing portions of chicken – only to give you extra chicken when you pay 50 cents more. Mind you, the plate with extra chicken looked like the same as the one before, except that the one before was the "normal" one.

Anyway, I am not complaining. I guess with less food, my rate of growing sidewards will start to slow down a little. At the end of the day, it’s good for everyone – the hawkers and the dieters.

THOSE who sell cooked food are usually not keen on raising their prices, but Madam Chen Yi Ye had to bite the bullet.

The 66-year-old, who runs a Taiwan porridge stall with her husband at the Old Airport Road hawker centre, upped the prices of 10 out of 30 dishes on the menu – including the popular bean sprouts fried with salted fish – by 50 cents.

She said: ‘We prefer not to increase our prices, but this time round, we couldn’t afford not to.’

Going by a survey by the Department of Statistics, she is in the minority – one quarter of hawkers have jacked up their prices as a result of higher food, fuel and labour costs. The remaining three quarters have held their prices steady since last June.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan, praising the majority for doing so, said that by not passing on the extra costs to their customers, they have done their bit to moderate the pace of price increases.

Speaking at the Kampong Chai Chee Chinese New Year celebrations at Bedok Central yesterday, he noted that, despite Singapore’s having to import most of its food, prices have also been kept steady through a number of measures.

Firstly, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority has diversified food sources so the country is less at the mercy of supply or other problems from any one source.

Secondly, the open competition in the business environment means customers can go elsewhere if they find the prices unreasonable.

Madam Chen put it simply: ‘We’d rather lose profits than lose customers.’

But while prices may be held steady, hawkers can – and do – give smaller portions to cope with increased costs.

Mr Zainal Onan, 45, for example, sells chicken rice in Clementi West daily and chicken briyani as well on Fridays. He said that with briyani, he cannot avoid giving the quarter chicken that is traditionally a part of the dish, so he has raised his price by 50 cents to $4.

With chicken rice, however, he hinted that he can ‘control the size of the portions better’, while charging the same.

Mr Ang Kiam Meng, who heads the Restaurant Association of Singapore, said restaurants were sensitive to prices and competition was stiff, ‘so everyone will try to absorb the cost for as long as they can before passing it on’.

His own chain of Jumbo seafood restaurants has seen prices of crabs, for example, go up from $16 to $24 per kg, but prices of crab dishes there have gone up from $18 to only $22 per kg – barely enough to cover the overall increases in labour, rental, fuel and other costs, he said.

Mr Png Koon Heng, who chairs the Association of Chinese Wheat Flour Merchants of Singapore, confirmed that increased costs are hurting the food industry’s bottom line.

The price of a 25kg bag of wheat flour, used to make noodles and breads, has been upped thrice in the last year: by $1.70 on Sept 15, then by $6 on Oct19 and again by $2.80 on Dec 24.

He said: ‘Everyone thinks that things are good for us. But we have been feeling the pinch for some time now.’

Even with the price increases, profits have gone down, not up, he said.

He cited his own example: In the past, when his costs were $20, he earned $1.50. Now, his costs are $30, but he still earns only $1.50. His margins have shrunk.

‘Nowadays, what most people make is just enough to cover costs. Sometimes, they even have to take losses,’ he said.

taniat@sph.com.sg

weichean@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 4th February 2008



Reader's Comments

  1. Ang | February 4th, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    I only know 3 scenarios

    1. Same price, less ingredients (subtle)
    2. Same ingredients, price increase (obvious)
    3. Less ingredients, price increase (not obvious)

    Where got same price, same ingredients? No hawker or business is going to do charity unless their profit margin is so high or they are so desperate for business.

    If only someone find a way to measure the past, present and the future of their ingredients used – the number of pieces, ingredients used, weight of the ingredients,etc.

    Otherwise, once the publicity is over, those generous hawkers will blame on the ERP, their ingredients suppliers, oil hike, water & electricity bill hike, and whatever they can think of, to say “I go no choice, my faithful customers will understand and support me!”

    Like the ripple that is so obvious after a stone is thrown into the water but quickly faded away, this food price inflation will be a non-issue after a while.

    Most importantly, the food must be kept hygienic and healthy for those who are indulging in.

  2. Onlooker | February 4th, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    I agree with Ang
    1. Varity food(zup cai peng),chicken rice,fishball noodle,mee rebus,mee siam(mai hum),nasi lemak.
    2. Western food,handmade(china ones) noodles,Roti prata,Mac donald,KFC etc.
    3. Zhu chao order ALACARTE(horfan etc),Varity food(zup cai peng aka food court),wanton noodles.
    plus Overtime less pay worker for more workload,foreign talent who avoid overworking(managerial post)while creatively delegating work = less time for cooking
    While Our leeders = pay(to 3 mill) increase, ERP, GST,mean testing, Employer CPF Contribtuion cut,longevity Scheme(scam)
    don’t have to worry their plate will always be full because of curry flavor.

  3. Singh kak pok rean | February 4th, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    If we are so upset with price hike and with other garments policies ( erp mean gst longevity scam) why we dun vote them out of office? cause at the end of the day we all want a few hundred bucks and heck dee bee upgrade.

    Mr Singh

  4. Mr Chin Chye Lah | February 4th, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    Even the peanuts and bananas are getting more expensive. And these white monkeys still can afford to eat peanuts and bananas at the same time.

    Over to Mrs Goh, how you say now?

  5. Daily SG: 6 Feb 2008 « The Singapore Daily | February 6th, 2008 at 10:40 am

    […] Singaporeans are fed, up with progress! – Simply Jean: Hawker prices the same… but is your food still the same? […]

  6. xtrocious | February 6th, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Actually, it is not true to say that the quality has not dropped – some hawkers have started to substitute ingredients to maintain the sham of keeping prices unchanged…

    However, I would actually prefer hawkers to raise prices and let everyone know (especially those cooked food price surveyors) that we do HAVE price inflation here…

    Else the gahmen will just go on harping about how prices (from char kway teow to mee siam sans hum) have not changed for the last 10 years or more!

  7. Harry | February 6th, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    “why we dun vote them out of office”
    Answer: They fixed it so we can’t. My constituency was merged into one humongous GRC, so while I could vote in the previous election, I couldn’t in 2006.

  8. Onlooker | February 6th, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Lol Mr Singh just like harry said about voting.But did you get to vote or is your area a passover constituency? More to the point Jean have made a really good observation again on the daily happenings in Singapore.Like the last post on pedra branca.
    That why we must cook more and eat out less but given all those time robbed without compensation(esp for local working mum). Who would have the time to cook unbranded(in house brand like NTUC value rice @ $4 plus) rice and cook tofu(80cent) , veges and/or meat. Undercooked meat can spread salmonella too.Worse must see doctor(diahorrea) and more reason(real MC) for the boss to fire you While your colleagues(FT who do not have to serve NS or attend IPPT/RP) backstab you for a better promotion opportunity or worse steal the works you worked on for a long time and taking credit for it.

  9. insens | February 12th, 2008 at 1:17 am

    “why we dun vote them out of office”
    I’ve been able to vote in 3 elections… for 3 different constituencies. but I’ve never changed my address. How is that possible? Election fraud.

  10. SGDaily Roundup: Week 7 « The Singapore Daily | February 16th, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    […] of touch? – The Online Citizen: 5 Minutes With… Leong Sze Hian on rising inflation – Simply Jean: Hawker prices the same… but is your food still the same? – The Anti Neo-Democracy Theorist: High Food and Petrol prices solely due to external forces? – […]

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