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'Never seen prices like this': Fish, chicken stallholders fret over passing on higher costs to customers

SINGAPORE — In more than 40 years of running a fish stall at an Ang Mo Kio wet market, Mr Gary Tan, 63, said he has never seen wholesale fish prices go up so much, and for so long. 

'Never seen prices like this': Fish, chicken stallholders fret over passing on higher costs to customers
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  • Many stallholders, who carry chicken and fish, told TODAY that they have seen an increase in wholesale prices from their suppliers
  • Malaysia has announced it will halt chicken exports from June 1 owing to a shortage in the country
  • Seafood prices are rising sharply in Malaysia amid reports of dwindling fish stocks in the country's waters
  • Some Singapore stallholders worry that they may not be able to weather supply shortages and price hikes for much longer 

SINGAPORE — In more than 40 years of running a fish stall at an Ang Mo Kio wet market, Mr Gary Tan, 63, said he has never seen wholesale fish prices go up so much, and for so long. 

As Singapore faces a supply crunch for both chicken and fish amid shortages in Malaysia, Mr Tan told TODAY by phone in Mandarin: “Prices of fish have gone up by 30 per cent, and it has been increasing since the Hari Raya period.

"For example, typically, we buy golden pomfrets or farm fish at around S$7 (per kilogram), but now it’s around S$10. Some other fish are even more. For mackerel, it would usually be S$13 (per kilogram), but now it costs S$18."

Mr Tan added: “I have been in the business for over 40 years and I have never seen prices like this before.”

I have been in the business for over 40 years and I have never seen prices like this before.
Ang Mo Kio wet market fish stallholder Gary Tan

Seafood prices in Malaysia have been rising sharply, with reports that fish stocks in the country's waters have been falling.

According to the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), about 25 per cent of Singapore's seafood was imported from Malaysia in 2021.

Mr Tan said the reduced supply from Malaysia, along with higher fuel prices for fishermen, had led to soaring prices in Singapore in the past month.

“Price increases are normal for us but they usually last up to three weeks at a go. But now, because of all these different problems, the prices are still going to continue increasing next week.”

Many sellers, who carry chicken and fish, like Mr Tan, told TODAY that they have seen an increase in wholesale prices from suppliers of both.

Malaysia announced on Monday that it would be halting chicken exports from June 1, owing to a shortage in the country.

TODAY spoke to four chicken stalls and four fish stalls at various wet markets in Singapore. 

Most stall owners selling chicken said that prices started increasing in February while the upward trend began at the start of May for fish stall owners. 

HOW BUSINESSES HAVE BEEN RESPONDING

Ms Elly Sukma, owner of a poultry store named after her in Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre, recalled the days when she first opened her stall in 2000.

“Back then, you can buy three kilograms of chicken for S$10, now if any makcik (auntie) wants the cheapest, it's one kilogram for S$5,” she said, referring to frozen chicken.

Malaysia’s decision to curb exports had sparked a S$0.50 increase in cost for each kilogram of chicken, the highest she has seen since starting her business.

She and other poultry sellers said festive seasons such as Chinese New Year and Hari Raya usually spell increased chicken costs for all poultry sellers.

For Ms Sukma, her supplier charged her an additional S$0.20 per kg a week during the Ramadan period.

While she sold fresh chicken meat at S$6 a kilogram, and at S$6.50 during festive seasons in 2021, she has been charging S$7 a kilogram since Ramadan started this year. 

Her customers have questioned why prices have not yet dropped, as they did in previous years, but Ms Sukma is thankful they have been understanding.

Despite that, her revenue has dropped by about 60 per cent, she said, because she is unable to get enough fresh chicken from her suppliers to sell, and she does not have the heart to increase prices for her customers.

“The makciks tell me prices are too high, it's hard to feed their families… I cannot just increase it because it’s more expensive,” she said.

The makciks (aunties) tell me prices are too high, it's hard to feed their families… I cannot just increase it because it’s more expensive.
Ms Elly Sukma, poultry stallholder at Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre

To make ends meet, she has cut her costs by charging customers for plastic bags if they ask her to package the meat separately.

The owner of Fei Zai Fresh Seafood, a stall in the Chinatown area, who wanted to be known only as KC, told TODAY that supplier prices have gone up 30 per cent in the past month, which has forced him to increase his retail prices. 

“If I don’t mark up my prices, I cannot survive… Typically, a fish would cost me S$5 but now it’s like S$8. Older customers that don’t have the financial capability to purchase fish have now started buying pork or other meats instead of fish,” the 35-year-old said. 

He added that he has seen almost a 40 per cent dip in sales since the price hikes.

“Now that food businesses have started opening up (and relaxing social distancing rules) people prefer to eat instead of cooking at home, which has also affected business,” he said. 

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

Madam Serena Tan, 55, who helps her father-in-law run Chong Kee Chicken, a store at a wet market in Chinatown, said: “The business could probably still go on a month with these price increases, but not two months. It would be very hard for us.” 

She explained that the stall has not increased retail prices despite rising supplier prices. 

“We try not to increase our prices to keep our regular customers. My father-in-law believes that as long as we can earn enough money to put food on the table, then we’ll be fine,” she said. 

In response to queries, the Consumers Association of Singapore said that it has not received any complaints on price rises of chicken and other meat and seafood products.

TODAY has also reached out to NTUC FairPrice, DFI Retail Group, Redmart and Sheng Siong for comments about price increases.

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SFA NTUC Singapore Food Agency chicken

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