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'It's tough to do business': Over half of 18 sugarcane stalls at Marsiling hawker centre close due to rising costs

'It's tough to do business': Over half of 18 sugarcane stalls at Marsiling hawker centre close due to rising costs
Two hawkers selling sugarcane juice at Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre said a box of sugarcane costs them $35.
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News.

At its peak, Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre was home to 18 stalls selling sugarcane juice. Today, only seven are still in business.

The rest have shuttered due to the rising costs faced by the hawkers over the past few years, Chua Lay Sing, chairman of Woodlands Town Centre Merchants' Association, told Shin Min Daily News on Friday (June 21).

In recent years, both hawkers and diners have had to pay more for sugarcane drinks.

According to a CNA report published in 2018, the price hike could be attributed to a shortage of the sugarcane plant then, which caused supply disruptions to hawkers and suppliers.

The Covid-19 pandemic did not help matters, as foreigners working at farms in Malaysia packed up and returned to their home countries, reported Shin Min.

Planting eventually resumed when pandemic measures were gradually lifted, but the long growing period meant that sugarcane was still in short supply then, said one supplier.

"At that time, the price for a box of sugarcane rose to about $37 or $38. Now, with inflation and the GST increase, it is difficult for the price to revert to what it was in the past."

A box of sugarcane weighs about 20kg and was sold for between $20 and $30 before the pandemic, said another supplier.

No choice but to raise prices

Among the seven stallholders still selling sugarcane juice at the Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre is 60-year-old Chen.

The hawker, who pairs the beverage with fruits such as lemon, coconut and salted plums, said the price for a box of sugarcane rose to $35 at the beginning of last year. Subsequently, she increased the prices for her juices with salted plums by 50 cents.

At her stall, a medium cup of sugarcane juice with salted plums costs $3, while juice with lime or lemon is priced at $3.50 for the same size.

"It's tough to do business," she told Shin Min. "Despite soaring prices, we try not to pass the costs on to customers. We only raised the prices for three types of sugarcane juice."

Another stall owner, surnamed Liu, sells sugarcane juice as well as coffee and tea.

During Hari Raya Puasa last year, the price for a box of sugarcane once rose from more than $20 to about $35, she said.

To cope with the rising costs, Liu raised the price of her sugarcane juice by 50 cents. Each regular sized and large cup costs $2 and $3 respectively.

"The cost of sugarcane surged very quickly, and once costs rise, they won't fall," she added.

Two sugarcane stallholders at other hawker centres also told Shin Min that they have raised prices slightly, and imposed additional charges for customers who want less or no ice in their drinks.

ALSO READ: 'I thought she was joking': Diner baffled by $5 sugarcane juice at Holland Village hawker stall

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