Hawkers mull over raising food prices as Russia-Ukraine crisis adds to cost burden
Since she took over her father's yong tau foo stall 13 years ago, Madam Lee Siew Khim had raised her food prices only once before, in 2019.
Madam Lee, 50, who runs Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, will be increasing prices at her stall from next month due to rising food costs.
Her stall sells a bowl of six pieces of yong tau fu or a bowl of noodles or bee hoon with four pieces of yong tau fu for $3. They will go up to $3.50.
Madam Lee is one of the 38 hawkers The Straits Times spoke to about how the Russia-Ukraine crisis and inflation have impacted their business.
Seventeen of them said they will consider reviewing their food prices if supply costs and overheads continue to rise.
Madam Lee said prices of ingredients have been creeping up over the past year. For instance, the cost of a 18kg tin of vegetable cooking oil is now $50, from $35 in March last year.
She said: "I use three tins of vegetable cooking oil a week at my stall, so I spend about $150 on cooking oil per week. If I don't increase my food prices soon, it would be quite hard for me to sustain my profits."
Mr Lee Yong Wen, 30, who runs Mr Meepok at a coffee shop in Clementi West, is also reviewing prices at his stall after the electricity bill rose by more than $1,000 last month.
"The prices for many things, like eggs, have been increasing in the past weeks and are set to increase more in future. The inflation definitely hit us badly," he added.
In January, Singapore's core inflation rose to 2.4 per cent year on year, the highest since September 2012.
Food prices have been rising due to the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and increasing energy prices.
The situation is now exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine crisis, which has pushed up prices in commodity markets.
Russia and Ukraine are vital suppliers of grains, vegetable oil and fertilisers, which means that supply disruptions will be felt all over the world.
Food prices worldwide hit a record high in February, jumping 20.7 per cent from a year earlier, led by a surge in the costs of vegetable oils and dairy products.
The impact of rising food costs and the Russia-Ukraine crisis have slowly trickled down to hawkers.
Ten of the hawkers told ST they had raised their prices recently.
A drink stall operator who wants to be known as Mr Lim increased hot drink prices by 10 cents in March. He said his suppliers began raising prices in December last year.
Mr Lim, 52, who owns Tou Shou Di drink stall at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, said: "I can absorb the initial price increase, but the prices keep rising, and I can't afford to do that anymore. Even after my price increase, I am still losing about 10 cents for each cup of coffee or tea that I sell. If the war in Ukraine and Russia continues, the prices will keep increasing."
Mr Anthony Low, 53, chairman of the Federation of Merchants' Association Hawker Division, said the cost of ingredients and electricity bills have affected hawkers greatly.
"When we add all these up, it becomes a heavy burden for hawkers to maintain their current food prices. We are selling at affordable prices for the public. But with inflation, it is hard for us to bear the costs. So we have to increase our food prices, or else we can't cope."
Mr Thya Boon Hin, 56, chairman of the Marine Parade Merchants' Association, which oversees 84 Marine Parade Central Market and Food Centre and 50A Marine Terrace Market and Food Centre, said some hawkers have been adjusting their prices since January.
Together, the two markets have a total of 79 hawker stalls.
"Some hawkers increased their prices by 30 cents to 50 cents as the costs of their ingredients, oil and electricity have increased in recent months," he added.
Despite the rising costs, some hawkers - such as Mr Zhang Ah Seng, 54, who runs Ah Seng Bak Chor Mee in Albert Food Centre - did not increase their prices.
Mr Zhang is one of 11 hawkers ST spoke to who did not raise prices.
"If a small business were to increase prices by a small 50 cents, there will be backlash from our regulars and directly affect our business negatively. We choose to not increase food prices mainly because of lower-wage customers, who are already scrimping to survive every day," said Mr Zhang.
Others, such as Mr David Lim, 30, owner of Ah Tas Muffins at Old Airport Road Food Centre, said they will try to maintain prices.
However, Mr Lim said profits will fall as prices of ingredients such as butter, chocolate and milk are constantly on the rise.
"With the (pending) goods and services tax hike, we have to pay our landlord and food suppliers more. The salary for employees will also have to be increased due to the rising cost of living," he added.
Mr Hong Poh Hin, vice-chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association, which represents more than 400 coffee shops, said: "If the food suppliers increase their prices and the coffee shop operators and stall holders cannot absorb the costs, they will pass the cost to the consumers sooner or later."
Most consumers said they understood the hawkers' needs to increase their prices.
Engineer Alfred Tan, 48, said, "Everyone has to make a living. Everything is more expensive now, so you can't expect (hawkers) to maintain their prices."
- Additional reporting by Samuel Ang