Expect to pay more for Chinese New Year goodies

The rising cost of manpower, rents and raw materials has pushed up prices of festive goodies.
The rising cost of manpower, rents and raw materials has pushed up prices of festive goodies.ST PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN

Higher manpower, rental and ingredient costs push prices up but mandarin oranges set to be cheaper

Be prepared to pay a little more for snacks such as love letters, pineapple tarts, shrimp rolls and bak kwa this Chinese New Year.

The rising cost of manpower, rents and raw materials has pushed up prices of these festive goodies, although some retailers are absorbing the cost hike.

Bakery Smiling Orchid is selling a 500ml container of pineapple tarts, with about 30 pieces, for $23, up from last year's $20. A hundred sticks of love letters - a type of egg roll - cost $2 more at $20, while a 350g container of shrimp rolls is priced at $18, $1 more than last year.

Its general manager, Mr Samat Jaimon, said monthly rental for its central kitchen space has gone up from $18,000 last year to $21,000 this year. The company also pays its employees at least $8 an hour, up from $6 last year, he added.

At The Pine Garden, a container of 30 handmade pineapple tarts costs $27, up from $26 last year. Prices of its love letters and shrimp rolls remain the same.

Labour costs are higher due to the shortage in manpower, while the stronger US dollar has led to pricier imported ingredients, said Mr Wei Chan, Pine Garden's managing director.

Despite the higher operating costs, the neighbourhood bakery is maintaining the prices of most of its festive products to keep them affordable for its loyal customers, he added.

At bak kwa chain Kim Joo Guan, 1kg of its barbecued pork now costs $51, up from $50 in the two weeks before last Chinese New Year.

Bak kwa chains usually increase their prices in the lead-up to Chinese New Year to pay for the extra labour needed to deal with the higher demand.

At Lim Chee Guan, 1kg of bak kwa is now costlier, rising from the non-peak price of $50 to $54, and is set to increase further to $56 closer to Chinese New Year. This is similar to last year's prices, although the price of pork has risen over the past year, said its owner, Mr Rod Lim.

"We already increased prices from $48 per kg to $50 one or two years back. We are here to do business for the long term, so we try not to do any dramatic increment," he added.

The good news is that prices of mandarin oranges have gone down slightly compared to last year, thanks to greater supply from a better harvest. At supermarket chain FairPrice, the usual price of a carton of 30 Yong Chun lukan oranges from China is now $14.95, a 5 per cent decrease compared to the same period last year.

The first day of Chinese New Year falls in February this year, instead of January - as was the case in 2014 - and this gives the oranges more time to grow and ripen for the festive season, said Mr Desmond Bernavey Lee, director of fruit and vegetable wholesaler FreshDirect.

"Two to three weeks (of extra time to grow) can do wonders," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2016, with the headline 'Expect to pay more for CNY goodies'. Print Edition | Subscribe