When dining out is a luxury [New Straits Time (Malaysia)]
(New Straits Time (Malaysia) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) COSTLY: Finding a cheap food outlet for a lunch or dinner outing is becoming increasingly hard. As Malaysians struggle to cope with rising food prices, consumer groups are advocating eating-in as well as more enforcement by the authorities, write Tan Choe Choe and Arman Ahmad
CONSUMERS are wringing their hands in frustration as they dig deeper into their pockets to cope with rising food prices following the recent hike in fuel prices.
Dining out is becoming an increasingly expensive affair, and many wonder if restaurant operators are unscrupulously cashing in on our penchant for eating out with price hikes that are not commensurate with the increase in the price of fuel.
Consumers are now either paying more than they normally would or have to settle for smaller food portions for the same price.
A check by the New Sunday Times revealed that some operators have even increased their prices by an astounding 50 per cent even though fuel prices only went up by about 20 sen per litre.
A large plate of seafood nasi goreng for two persons at a stall in Petaling Jaya, which was priced at RM40 slightly more than a month ago, now costs a whopping RM60!
At several other restaurants and stalls in the Klang Valley, stickers with the new prices of food, averaging a RM2 increase across the board, were pasted on the menus.
While many consumers are becoming more selective of the diners they patronise, others have chosen to cut down on their outings.
The Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) strongly believes that operators have been taking advantage of the situation.
"The price of food have been going up, or if it has not gone up much, then the quantity has shrunk. Examples include the shrinking roti canai and full cream milk powder, which used to come in 2kg packaging, is now being sold in 1.8 kg packaging.
"If the rise in cost is due to environmental factors, such as poor weather affecting supplies, then the sellers cannot be blamed," said its president, S.M. Mohamed Idris.
Instead, he said, traders had always used the rise in the cost of petrol as a convenient excuse to increase prices, adding it was hard for consumers to know whether the price increases were justified.
"For example, when a 10kg packet of rice increases by RM1, is it fair? The same can be asked for drinks going up by 10 sen, or express bus operators levying a RM3 surcharge.
"We can say that the price of drinks should not go up by 10 sen because petrol per litre went up by 20 sen, but then the coffee shop owner will claim that other costs have gone up."
However, most Malaysians seem impervious to skyrocketing food prices.
A recent online survey by global consumer research company, Nielsen, found that 66 per cent of Malaysians "are relatively unconcerned by looming food inflation, with the majority indicating there is enough flexibility in their household budgets to absorb a rise in food prices without having to make significant sacrifices to their spending in other areas".
The Nielsen's Global Survey of Inflation Impact, released early this month, polled over 29,000 respondents in 58 countries to look at how respondents of all income ranges were coping with rising food prices.
"While the majority of Malaysian consumers were unlikely to make significant spending cuts to cope with rising food prices, many indicated they would look to adjust their outlay on out-of-home dining (67 per cent), new clothes and accessories (59), recreation and entertainment (46) and snack foods (50) to off-set food inflation," the company said in a news release on Oct 8.
"As income levels steadily increase throughout the region, many Southeast Asian consumers appear to be taking the rising cost of living in stride," said Matthew Krepsik, executive director of Nielsen's Marketing Effectiveness Practice in Southeast Asia, North Asia and Pacific.
"If consumers are required to make trade-offs to extend their food budget, they will shift to core staples, pay more attention to promotions and special offers and look to cut back their spending on non-essential, indulgent and processed foods."
On how rising food prices may influence where they purchase grocery items, 37 per cent of Malaysian consumers appear to shop more often at discount stores, a behaviour shared with other consumers in Singapore (48 per cent), Indonesia (35) and the Philippines (36).
"However, consumers in Thailand and Vietnam indicated they would be most likely to grow their own food. Consumers across Southeast Asia also indicated a strong likelihood to shop more at de-stocking and clearance stores and warehouse club stores."
Malaysian consumers see food categories such as candies, cookies and other sweets, chips, snack foods and carbonated beverages as the most vulnerable grocery items during inflationary times, while staples, such as meat, poultry, fish, seafood, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables and dairy products, appeared largely immune to consumer cutbacks in the face of rising food prices.
Although the survey was conducted online and as such would be reflective of that segment of the population, Nielsen told the New Sunday Times that "it has been weighted to reflect the total population; with Malaysia's internet penetration at 61 per cent, a total of 504 Malaysians participated in the survey".
Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca) chief executive Datuk Paul Selvaraj was not surprised by Nielsen's survey findings that Malaysians seem unfazed by rising food prices.
"I think when you visit 24-hour restaurants at 3am and still see them full, you can tell that Malaysians do like to eat out.
"I think that as long as you're willing to spend and you can afford it, it's really your choice."
He said if one made a conscious decision to eat out and chose a particular eatery with full knowledge of the kind of prices it would charge, then they should not complain about the food being expensive.
"You have the alternative, which is to actually buy the ingredients and prepare the food yourself.
"It may be healthier, too. It is up to you.
"The choice is yours, as long as you're comfortable with your choices and you choose the choice that is within your budget."
In September, it was reported that FOMCA stated food prices had increased by "a fair bit" following the hike of diesel and RON95 petrol prices, according to their food price monitoring team.
"It was not random monitoring, and so we can't say it was a general increase, or across the board.
"But there were some places which we monitored where we saw, for example, the price of a bowl of wantan mee having gone up by 50 sen, and a cup of coffee by 20 sen. You can't tell me you use 1 litre of petrol to make that cup of coffee.
"That's just plain unreasonable."
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