What Can Singaporeans Do about Rising Food Prices?

Recently, partners and tenants of Foodfare’s coffee shops and food courts increased prices of drinks by about 20 cents across the board (except for prices of healthier drinks which remain unchanged). This caused netizens on Wanbao (the first mainstream media to break the news) to complain about the high cost of food prices and alleged profiteering.

Why The Price Hike?

Not many know that the price adjustments were actually due to the requests of partners and tenants of Foodfare’s food courts and coffee shops, which was finally allowed by Foodfare (after keeping prices the same for many years).

The price increases were not initiated by Foodfare themselves, which will continue to look into assisting the needy to reduce the cost of food through social programmes and special discounts.

Are The Higher Prices Justified?

Not too long ago, netizens railed against the same NTUC Foodfare for imposing price caps on hawkers at the new Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre. Food influencers such as Leslie Tay, Daniel Goh and KF Seetoh have also been long-time advocates for the right to set higher prices to earn a living and preserve our food culture.

Leslie Tay: First of all, we have to realise that we have a culinary prejudice against our food. Why are you so happy paying S$15 for a bowl of ramen, and you complain when the bowl of bak chor mee goes up by another S$0.50 to S$4.50? 

Daniel Goh: A fellow drinks seller once told me that a few customers verbally abused him when they found out he raised prices of his coffee drinks by 10 cents. 

“I’ve not raised prices for almost 10 years,” he decried. “They complain that they have to now pay $1 for a kopi (coffee), but these are the people who don’t even blink at paying $7 at Starbucks.” 

Search your hearts, you know he’s right.

The trouble is, such prejudice reinforces the belief that the trade is not worth joining. Times may have changed, but mindsets sadly haven’t.

Damned if you do; damned if you don’t

If food businesses raise prices, consumers may avoid or even boycott them. Hawker prices are not immune to market forces either.

KF Seetoh: He raised his fishball noodles to a market-familiar price of $3.50, up 50 cents from some months back. These are fishballs that are handmade at 5am each day. They go through hours of boiling, and electricity costs accompany such culinary traditions.

Overnight, more than half the regulars avoided young Douglas Ng and his Fishball Story stall at Golden Mile Food Centre.  The thing is: he is not allowed much space to complain when the prices of raw ingredients, gas and transport go up. Such things directly affect his cost. The reality is that hawker food prices are set to rise as inevitably as basic salaries due to natural cost factors impressing on them

But if food prices don’t increase, how can food sellers continue to run a viable business?

A Spring Singapore Study conducted in 2015 found that 4 in 10 F&B businesses don’t last beyond 5 years. Smaller F&B businesses that survived had to drop poor-performing or low profit-margin items.

But does it make sense for drink operators at coffee shops and food courts to drop kopis and tehs in favour of lattés and fruit teas?

What can you do about rising food prices?

We know that eventually, food prices will increase, but we hate it when it affects our pockets as a consumer. Food and beverages account for a quarter of our household expenditure, so examining our spending habits is useful.

Some finance websites have a budget tracker, or you can create your own through excel to monitor your cash outflow. You may be surprised how much your cumulative expenses add up to.

You can also track if your major expenses come from the 20c price increase (which you can always order the kosong version to avoid paying that 20c more), or whether your impulse buys on online shopping apps/websites are the real culprits reducing your retirement funds.

Try not to miss the forest for the trees, and invest your efforts to piece together a bigger picture of your liabilities and opportunities to save.

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