Bakeries hit as egg prices rise again

Cheryl Faith Wee The Straits Times AsiaOne 1 Dec 14;

It's the season for Christmas logcakes but bakeries and eateries here have been hit by yet another rise in the price of fresh eggs.

Prices have risen by as much as 10 per cent after the previous hike last month, given the higher demand in the lead-up to the festive period and a shortfall in supply.

The drop in supply follows a ban on egg imports from three farms in Malaysia after Salmonella enteritidis - a bacterium which causes food poisoning - was detected in their produce.

The shortfall has led at least one supermarket outlet, Giant in Parkway Parade, to cap the number of eggs that customers can buy to four trays.

Retailers have raised egg prices by about 3 per cent to more than 10 per cent over the last month, and eggs cost around 15 per cent to 40 per cent more over the same period last year.

While consumers could buy 10 eggs for less than $2 earlier in the year, the same number now costs more than $2 at major supermarket chains.

At FairPrice supermarkets, prices have risen by 3 per cent to 5 per cent on average over the last month, and a tray of 10 eggs now costs between $2.25 and $3.95.

At Sheng Siong, a tray of 10 eggs costs between $2.05 and $2.40, which is 20 to 35 cents - or more than 10 per cent - higher than at the end of last month.

Prime Supermarket has also raised its prices by around 7 per cent. It now costs between $2.35 and $2.80 for a tray of 10 eggs.

Sheng Siong, FairPrice and Prime Supermarket said the price hikes were due to the shortfall in supply after the suspension of the three Malaysian farms earlier this year.

Malaysia, Singapore's key source of egg imports, supplies about four million eggs a day.

Mr Tan Lau Huah, chairman of the Eggs Import/Export Trading Association, said the high demand for eggs during the festive period has worsened the situation. The shortfall in daily supply has doubled from about 30,000 last month to about 60,000 eggs now.

With fewer eggs available, local suppliers often give priority to big businesses such as supermarket chains, cutting supply to small players such as hawkers, said Mr Tan. Hawkers often have to buy eggs from supermarkets instead.

He added: "The situation will improve if farms get more hens to lay eggs, the ban is lifted from the three farms in Malaysia or new farms are allowed to export eggs. But even if farms buy more hens, it will take at least five months for them to be mature enough to lay eggs."

Prices should be more stable after Chinese New Year next February, Mr Tan added.

There are 20 farms in Malaysia approved by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to export eggs here. Last year, around 75 per cent of Singapore's egg supply was from Malaysia. The rest were mainly produced here with a small amount imported from Japan and New Zealand.

Some big businesses like bakery chain BreadTalk have not been hit by the higher prices. A spokesman said given the sheer amount of eggs it needs, it can negotiate and lock in prices with suppliers.

On the other hand, small business owners are concerned about not getting enough eggs during the festive period.

Ms Sarah Khaw, 28, who runs cake shop Maple & Market in Cassia Crescent near Geylang, needs 400 eggs next week for a large order, but her supplier told her there might not be enough.

She said: "I do not mind paying more. It would be terrible if I have no more eggs. If really desperate, I might have to turn to liquid eggs."

AVA said it is monitoring the situation closely and has been encouraging importers to source eggs from other approved countries as well as find alternatives such as liquid eggs.

Demand for liquid and powdered eggs has already risen. Last month, 260 tonnes of these were imported, more than four times the 60 tonnes imported in October last year and up from the 150 tonnes imported in September this year.