Prices of Chinese New Year delicacies shoot up, will increase further

Some items already up 30%; suppliers expect to see further increases

FAMILIES planning to entertain with must-have delicacies and goodies this Chinese New Year should start shopping now - or pay even higher prices later.

A Straits Times check with a dozen stores in Chinatown and Kallang has found that prices of abalone, fish maw, dried scallops, dried sea cucumber, pineapple tarts and mandarin oranges have already risen by up to 30 per cent, compared with the same pre-festival period last year.

The bad news: Importers and wholesalers said the prices of most of these items are likely to rise by at least another 10 per cent as the festive period draws closer. The first day of the Chinese New Year falls on Feb 10 this year.

At Sar Mooi Long, a dried goods store at Victoria Wholesale Centre, fish maw is going for $400 per kg, up from $300 last year. At neighbouring store Guan Say, 255g cans of abalone (drained weight) are priced at $158 each, up 30 per cent.

Supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice said inclement weather has pushed prices of Fujian ru gan - a popular mandarin orange from Fujian province in China - up 5 per cent from last year's levels.

Mr Allan Tan, the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association's immediate past-president, said the prices of most of these items typically inch up each year as transport, rental and labour costs increase. In addition, growing demand from China continues to put a strain on supplies, he noted.

However, some items have seen sharper price increases because of environmental factors.

Although there is some stock left over from last year, abalone supplies have shrunk this year because of rising seawater temperatures in Australia, a major exporter. The higher temperatures prevented some abalones from growing big enough to be harvested.

Fish maw is more costly because of overfishing of the red snapper, which produces premium grades of the delicacy. "Prices will go up with each new batch brought in as exporters raise prices to match rising demand," said Mr Tan.

So far, the hikes do not seem to have trickled down to restaurants offering reunion dinner meals.

Mr Chris Hooi, owner of the Dragon Phoenix restaurant in River Valley Road, will be keeping his abalone pen cai, fish maw and sea cucumber dishes at last year's prices. "We decided to absorb the increase and maintain prices. Such dishes already cost quite a lot, and it is not possible to mark them up too much," he said.

In the meantime, the higher prices at stores seem to be prompting customers to tighten their purse strings. At Eden Cottage, which packs and sells Chinese New Year hampers, customers are spending about $150 per hamper, down from about $200 last year.

"This year, we are packing the cheaper abalone from New Zealand instead of the pricier ones from Australia," said Eden Cottage owner Robert Neo, 35.

However, customers like IT manager Lisa Wu, 24, are not holding back. Ms Wu spent $264 on abalone, shark's fin, sea cucumber and mushrooms last week as gifts for her parents.

"I spent more than I did last year. These items are essential for Chinese New Year," she said.