Go to contents

Rising Grocery Prices Hurting Both Consumers and Sellers

Rising Grocery Prices Hurting Both Consumers and Sellers

Posted August. 28, 2010 12:46,   


A small number of customers were seen at Seoul Joongang Market at 3 p.m. Thursday. The market is a major sellers’ venue for farming and fisheries products in the capital.

A fruit store put up a sign reading, “10,000 won (8.40 U.S. dollars) for three peaches; 4,000 won (3.30 dollars) for one.” A customer asked the price and then left, saying, “Too expensive.”

The store owner said, “The prices of all fruits have risen,” adding, “A box of six tomatoes used to be 2,000 won (1.70 dollars) two days ago but now fetches 3,000 won (2.50 dollars).”

She then sighed and said, “Sales have dropped by half due to steep price hikes.”

A head of white radish more than doubled in price to 3,000 won from 1,400 won (1.20 dollars) last year. That of a head of Chinese cabbage also increased to 4,500 won (3.80 dollars) from 3,000 won.

The owner of a vegetable store said, “The prices of most vegetables including lettuce, sesame leaf and Chinese cabbage have soared, so sales are half of what they were before,” adding, “The only vegetable whose price has remained the same is red pepper.”

Prices of agricultural and fisheries products are skyrocketing in the run-up to the Chuseok (Full Moon Harvest) holidays next month. Prices of most farming and fishing products have soared since last year, with some rising three-fold. With the people’s livelihood deteriorating, merchants are also having difficulty selling their goods.

The Dong-A Ilbo visited Friday Seoul Joongang Market, E-Mart branches in the city’s Wangsimni district and Cheonggye Stream, and a Lotte Mart branch at Seoul Station.

○ Skyrocketing prices and falling sales

At Seoul Joongang Market, the price of a squid tripled in a year from 1,000 won (83 cents) to 3,000 won. The wholesale price of a 24-gram box of squid soared from the 30,000 won level to 90,000 won.

The owner of a fishery store said, “I sold two boxes a day last year but these days, it takes even three days to sell one box,” adding, “Fishery goods spoil easily in summer so unsold products are either thrown away or sold at a loss.”

The price of mudfish also rose from 5,000 won (4.20 dollars) to 7,000 won (5.90 dollars) per 400 grams. “Average daily sales of 600,000 to 700,000 won (501 to 585 dollars) have dropped by half due to soaring prices,” said the owner.

When a Dong-A reporter said he was a journalist to a 50-year-old restaurateur who came to the market for grocery shopping, the restaurateur abruptly expressed anger, saying, “Politicians and high-ranking government officials are all corrupt and work only for their interests. How can the working class earn a living in this situation?”

The man runs a restaurant that sells 4,000-won meals and seasoned squid is one of his main side dishes. He said, however, that he can no longer afford squid due to high prices and that after much hesitation, he bought 15 flatfish for 10,000 won.

A nearby fishery store went out of business after 30 years of operation. Closed business spaces with signs saying “For Rent” were seen here and there. As recently as several years ago, stores at the market were sold as soon as they went up for sale, but now empty spaces remain for several months, merchants said.

A vegetable store across the fishery store suspended business this summer because the owner said temporary closure is better than opening amid slow sales.

○ Abnormal temperatures lead to bad crops

At an E-Mart branch in Seoul’s Wangsimni district at 5:30 p.m., a 40-year-old housewife was surprised over the price of a bundle of spinach (2,990 won or 2.50 dollars). She passed on it, saying, “I heard its price rose to 2,500 won (2.10 dollars) from 1,500 (1.25 dollars) at neighborhood markets, but 3,000 won is too expensive.”

The soaring prices of agricultural and fishery products are changing consumption patterns. A 42-year-old housewife said, “Because of high prices this summer, we haven`t been able to consume even half of the watermelon volume we had last year.”

“Buying instant food costs less than cooking at home,” she said, adding that processed spaghetti sauce is cheaper than making sauce at home with fresh vegetables.

Kwon Oh-jin, an E-Mart manager, said, “The shopping amount per person remains the same but the rising prices of goods have led to a decline in the number of goods sold,” adding, “Many customers want to buy half a watermelon instead of a whole one.”

With the Chuseok holidays three weeks away, a further rise in prices is feared. A 33-year-old woman at the Seoul Station branch of Lotte Mart said, “In the past, 300,000 won (251 dollars) was enough for Chuseok but not this year.”

Park Yeong-gu, a researcher at Korea Rural Economic Institute, said, “Prices of agricultural products have soared due to a bad harvest stemming from abnormally low temperatures in spring and high temperatures and drought in summer.”

“If high temperatures continue next month, the prices of agricultural products will also likely continue to rise for the time being.”

jaeyuna@donga.com passion@donga.com