Wholesale vegetable prices from flood-hit Malaysia surge in Singapore but retail prices steady, say vendors

Vegetable stalls at the Chong Pang City Wet Market in Singapore: Wholesale prices of vegetables have risen up to 80 per cent due to floods in Malaysia. — TODAY pic
Vegetable stalls at the Chong Pang City Wet Market in Singapore: Wholesale prices of vegetables have risen up to 80 per cent due to floods in Malaysia. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Dec 20 — Monsoonal rains in Malaysia have caused the wholesale prices of some vegetables from across the Causeway to rise sharply, vegetable sellers said yesterday. But some of those interviewed by TODAY said that they are not passing on the price hikes to customers, adding that prices of imports from other countries are unaffected.

Supermarket chains also said they are avoiding price fluctuations on consumer essentials such as vegetables by using a range of suppliers.

One 72-year-old vegetable stall owner at Chong Pang City Wet Market in Yishun, who wanted to be known only as Yee, said : "At this time, we won't profit at all. Wholesale prices increase and we cannot increase our prices. Otherwise, customers won't buy. So we won't profit at all.”

Another vegetable stall owner at the wet market, who wanted to be known only as Chia, said that wholesale prices for some vegetables have at least doubled, especially baby spinach, bitter gourd and ladies' fingers (okra).

Jerry Tan, vice-president of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association (SFVIEA), said that Malaysia’s heavy rains and flooding had taken a major toll on the price, quality and supply of wholesale vegetables.

He told TODAY that depending on the product, vegetables have increased by up to 80 per cent, especially for “leafy vegetables”.

This monsoon season has caused widespread flooding in parts of Malaysia, including in Johor state. On Sunday, it was reported that the floods have displaced 3,835 residents in Johor Baru, with seven districts affected by floods.

Yee said that since last Saturday alone, wholesale prices of vegetables have shot up at least 30 per cent.

He also said that the quality and quantity of the crops have been affected, with a reduced variety of vegetables to choose from. He had to “throw away half of the vegetables as they turn bad the same day”.

“At Pasir Panjang (wholesale market), vendors who used to have 100 baskets full of vegetables will have about 20 baskets now. But his happens every year, the customers also know that,” he said.

Stable prices at supermarkets

In response from queries from TODAY, a Sheng Siong spokesperson said that despite the wet weather, the supply, quality and pricing of vegetables at the supermarket chain remain about the same.

“We practise food diversification and source vegetables from other countries as well, such as Thailand and China. Hence, the supply, quality and pricing of vegetables in our stores are relatively stable,” the spokesperson said.

NTUC FairPrice said in an email response that the supermarket employs various strategies to protect consumers from price fluctuations of “essentials”, which include importing from different suppliers and countries.

“Where feasible, we will also engage in contract farming agreements with local and overseas farms in countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia. Such agreements allow us to buy produce at an agreed price, which makes us less vulnerable to sudden price changes due to shortages in the market.”

As for quality, the NTUC Fairprice works with contract farms to ensure that food safety and quality standards are met, it said.

Customers unaffected

Tan of SFVIEA said that there has not been much panic from consumers or vegetable stall owners because it is the low season and many people are overseas.

A customer at Chong Pang, Madam Jesabel Tey, 52, an event coordinator, told TODAY that she is not “feeling the pinch” from vegetable prices.

“They usually increase by a few cents and that’s all right, but I don’t buy vegetables that much anymore. I am more bothered about the prices of the economic rice stalls at the food courts,” she said.

David Kanna, 59, who owns a poultry stall at the market, said that the wet market has seen a dip in patrons in general, because most families have two working parents who do not have time to cook.

“Most of the young people prefer to buy from Grab Food or Foodpanda. They don’t like to cook anymore,” he said.

An owner of an economic rice stall who gave his name as just Ah Bao, 32, said that the prices of wholesale vegetables that he usually buys from Malaysia typically go up around this time of the year.

To avoid losing his customers at his Yishun Ring Road stall, he said that he does not increase the prices of the dishes, or else customers would be turned off.

“If we cannot get the types of vegetables that we want or if they are too expensive, we would have to improvise and think of something creative and whip up a dish,” he said. — TODAY

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