KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — Some of Malaysia’s favourite dishes are on the edge of price increases due strains on global wheat supply caused by an export ban in India on top of the disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
While India accounts for only a fraction of Malaysia’s wheat imports, its decision will worsen the global shortage triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both of which are breadbasket nations.
Malay Mail spoke to some businesses in Selangor to see how they plan to cope, both with the price pressure and possible difficulties in procuring supply.
Placed in the middle-upper class setting in SS15, Subang Jaya, is Canai 15 Cafe, whose owner Datuk Joehary Abdullah said he has already had to raise prices on his menu to cope even before this latest disruption.
He said a serving of roti canai, which had been RM1.50 before January this year, was now RM2.10 due to previous hikes in wheat and flour prices.
Besides that, he has also raised the price of mee mamak to RM7.40, from just RM5.50 previously.
The restaurant owner added that the salary for the specialty chefs who made the popular Indian flatbread was the highest cost component for the Malaysian favourite.
"It's not only the flour price that is rising, manpower cost has also increased, no one would want to work as a 'roti canai cook' with a salary below RM3,000 each month,” he said.
At Restoran Hakim in Shah Alam, owner Datuk Hakimsa Abdul Karim said he has so far resisted raising prices despite the costlier flour and manpower, and was waiting for the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association’s (Presma) position in the matter.
With his restaurant placed within a three kilometer radius of two universities including Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Shah Alam and Universiti Selangor (Unisel), Hakimsa said he understood the pain his customers would feel if prices were to go up.
“I know my customers very well as most of them are students or just started to be able to stand with their own feet which came from slightly lower to middle income backgrounds.
“So it’s wise for me to maintain the price that I have now, which is RM1.20 per serving of roti canai, and I’m going to wait for Presma if they decide on anything else,” he told Malay Mail.
When contacted, Presma president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said suppliers so far were still maintaining their latest prices and have not responded to the latest developments.
As such, he said the association has decided to keep the price range of roti canai at between RM1.20 and RM1.70, depending on the location and rental of the restaurant.
“So far we are trying our level best to absorb our cost hike. We believe the government will do something to help us,” he said.
For local bakery shops like Hidayah Cookies, owner Sarimah Jantan said she was opting not to increase the price of her cakes and cookies, but to seek for other ways to mitigate.
Among others, she said this included increasing productivity while decreasing manpower to offset the rise in prices of wheat flour and other ingredients.
“Previously we had six to eight staff to help with the baking and packaging process but now we only have four staff including me and my daughter to help with everything.
“During Ramadan, we had to hire part timers to help with the bulk of orders. Luckily I just bought a new oven that can bake 10 trays of cookies in 10 minutes compared to my old oven where I can only bake six trays of cookies within 45 minutes,” she said.
Over at TBX The Baking Xperiment, owner Aaron Chan said they have not felt the pressure to increase prices as their focus was more on making pastries and cake instead of bread, which uses more flour.
He said that on average, their shop uses 200 to 300kg of flour a month, compared to Canai 15 Cafe’s usage of around 750kg of flour every month.
In any case, Chan said the price of the flour used at TBX has not increased.
However, the bakery owner said other ingredients such as butter have increased so they have had no choice but to change suppliers.
When asked how their bakery will cope if flour and other costs continue to rise, Chan said the response would need to be measured.
“We will revise our prices if necessary but our main priority is to remain competitive in the market,
“We also hope that the government can help SMEs like us to cope with other increased costs such as the sudden rise in minimum wage,” said the bakery shop owner.
The cafe and bakery, which is located at SS17 Subang Jaya, currently sells a piece of croissant at the price of RM8.
When approached by Malay Mail, customers gave mixed responses about the wheat shortage issue that might drive up the prices of their favorite dishes.
For avid fan of roti canai Afiq Adnan, the current price of his favorite dish is still considered to be affordable and reasonable.
“Here in Restoran Hakim, I still think that the price of roti canai here is still fairly low and affordable and I think it’s reasonable if they want to increase the price up to RM1.50,” the 31-year old said.
Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Datin Fatimah Mohamed Arshad, a food policy expert, previously told Malay Mail that Malaysia would inevitably be affected by India’s export ban as supplies from Ukraine, which accounted for a fifth of Malaysia’s wheat exports, have already been disrupted.
India’s announcement to block wheat export last week caught the world by surprise and raised concerns that it would worsen the global supply shortage, sending bushel prices to record highs according to news wire agency AFP.
The Indian government had previously said it was ready to help fill some of the supply shortages caused by the February invasion of Ukraine, but runaway inflation and food security in the poor nation of 1.4 billion people had forced them to reverse the decision.