MALAYSIA - 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."