Hawker fare now biting deeper into your pocket

Your favourite chicken rice dish may not have made your stomach any smaller over the last two years but it has probably shrunk your finances.

Hawkers are charging 10 to 20 per cent more for some local specialities, including chicken rice, than they did in 2012, according to a poll of 500 stalls released by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) yesterday.

Economists and trade associations say the hike is "inevitable" owing to rising rental prices and manpower costs, with last year's tightening of the labour laws making it harder to hire staff.

"Hawkers have to pay more to attract locals," said Mr Hong Poh Hin, chairman of the Foochow Coffee Restaurant and Bar Merchants Association. He added that productivity has suffered as locals may not want to work long hours or overtime on weekends.

Family-run stalls, meanwhile, can be affected by manpower shortages in other countries, which ramp up food production and delivery costs.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun noted that food subsidies in Malaysia and Indonesia have been cut, adding: "There are pressure points everywhere, from growing the food to bringing it in."

UOB economist Francis Tan said: "Any link in that chain, such as drivers, slaughter houses and packers, has to be paid more because there are not enough people to do these jobs."

The Department of Statistics consumer price index for hawker food has risen by more than 2 per cent from 2011 to last year - more than twice that of fast food. A plate of chicken rice costs an average of $3 today, the poll found, 50 cents more than in April 2012.

Hawkers are also charging 10 cents more for a piece of plain roti prata (90 cents) and a plate of rice with two vegetable dishes and one meat dish ($3). The increase could have been higher if not for the strong Singapore dollar, added Mr Song.

The hike will, of course, hit residents and those from the lower- income group hardest.

Mr Tan said: "In terms of percentage, salaries have not risen as quickly as the price increases."

Stalls which have held their prices may be absorbing the extra costs or making enough from the "sheer volume" of customers.

Case noted that there are still "substantial numbers of stalls" that have managed to keep their prices low. The industry watchdog also released a list of 20 hawkers who are charging below the most common prices.

For example, a $2 bowl of fishball noodles can be bought at Bee Lock Ting in Jalan Bukit Merah.

For Mr Jake Teng - who queued for half an hour yesterday at Chinatown Complex's Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle - quality matters most.

The 42-year-old administration executive said: "I won't eat at a stall just because it's cheap. But if it's cheap and good, and value for money, then I will."

This article was first published on October 21, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.