Price of rice not so nice right now
By Bob Freund
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
Sesey Lam, who owns Saigon Far East Oriental Market, was caught by surprise in March by a brief run on rice at her northwest Rochester grocery.
"They (customers) came in and bought all the rice," she said. "I had to sell at the old price."
There are new prices now, especially on 50-pound bags of white jasmine rice that often are carted out of the store by patrons.
Pushed by higher wholesale costs, Lam and other specialty grocers have bumped up shelf prices in the range of 50 percent or more in recent weeks. Some say their prices have doubled in a short time. The increases stem from low supplies due to production problems including flooding and poor crops in major overseas growing regions, such as Thailand.
While imported rices seem most affected, the price of U.S.-grown rice also has risen to a lesser extent, perhaps 5 to 10 percent, the grocers say.
There isn’t a shortage of rice. Stores contacted in Rochester had bagged, or bulk, rice available. But it is more costly than earlier this year, the owners say.
Imported rice has gone up the most, apparently due to available supplies. Wholesalers who handle imported rice are charging grocers more. In addition, Eav Ngov, owner of Asian Food Store in Rochester, said his import supplier is not allowing customers to increase their order sizes.
Another grocer, Jeevan Kanthirao of Rice and Spice on South Broadway, said his wholesaler is rationing the number of bags of rice that grocers can buy at a time.
Two national discounters — Sam’s Club and Costco Wholesale Corp. — have announced limits on purchases of bulk quantities by retail customers, which include many small businesses and restaurants.
Sam’s Club, which operates in Rochester, will allow customers to purchase no more than four, 20-pound bags at time.
Restaurants also are feeling the price increase. At Azteca Mexican Restaurant in Rochester, "I think 99 percent of our plates are served with rice and beans," said manager Ernie Hernandez. His restaurant, which uses about 100 pounds of rice a week, had just changed its menu, raising some prices, and doesn’t plan to increase meal prices to compensate now.
Great China co-owner Nghi Sam Vaysam said, said the restaurant is paying "a lot more" for rice now.
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