Kopitiam unhappy with CASE for exposing profiteering beer price hike

SINGAPORE — An undercover survey conducted on food and beverage vendors has sparked a heated exchange between a consumer watchdog and a coffee shop chain.

The spat arose after the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) sent 10 officers to various F&B outlets islandwide to covertly check their beer prices. With excise duties for liquor raised by 25 per cent last month, the cost of a big bottle of Tiger beer should increase by S$0.41, said CASE in a media release yesterday.

But the survey found that the two vendors with the greatest price hike were outlets under the food chain operator Kopitiam.

While CASE said its survey has led to Kopitiam lowering the prices, the food chain operator has disputed this and questioned the accuracy of the survey, claiming that its price adjustments were due to assessment of nearby competitors.

In the first round of the survey, conducted between Feb 28 and March 3, CASE said eight out of 11 vendors surveyed were found to have marked up their large bottles of Tiger beer (633ml) by between S$0.50 and S$1.30. This meant the vendors were overcharging consumers S$0.10 to S$0.90.

CASE said the Kopitiam outlet at Block 542 Serangoon North Avenue 4 had increased the price of a large bottle of Tiger beer by S$1.30 to S$6.80 after the tax hike. The Kopitiam outlet at Block 248 Simei Street 3 was charging the same price after an increase of S$1.20.

However, Kopitiam pointed out in a series of strongly-worded emails to CASE that its survey had included “wrong information”.

For one, the address should have been Block 542B Serangoon North Avenue 3 and not Block 542 Serangoon North Avenue 4, said its Corporate Communications Manager Evonne Tay. She also said the survey was “outdated” as beer prices had already been lowered to S$6.30 at the Serangoon North outlet and S$6.50 at the Simei outlet on March 4 and March 10 respectively.

In response, CASE said the survey was conducted at the Serangoon North and Simei outlets on Feb 28 and March 3, respectively. It added that it was glad Kopitiam had lowered its prices and it hoped “more reductions will be made to truly reflect the increase of the excise duty”.

Speaking to TODAY, Ms Tay refuted that its prices were changed as a consequence of the survey and said CASE had not shared the results with Kopitiam before or after its release.

However, CASE said it had emailed the food chain operator on March 3 about the survey and encouraged it to lower beer prices.

When CASE conducted another round of its survey on March 11, five out of 12 vendors near the eight surveyed earlier were found to have raised their prices by S$0.50.

Only three out of a total of 23 vendors surveyed did not overcharge.

CASE President Lim Biow Chuan told TODAY that “marginal” increases of 5 to 10 cents above the tax increase was “something we will probably live with”, because retailers may need to cater for additional costs, such as to make changes to their signboards.

But large hikes were not right, said Mr Lim, who is also Member of Parliament for Mountbatten SMC.

“Ultimately, it’s a free market. But we are putting the knowledge of beer prices in the hands of consumers.”

A Ministry of Trade and Industry spokesperson said CASE’s survey highlights the importance of making informed choices as it has shown that there are food and beverage establishments that have not raised their prices excessively after the excise duty was incr eased.

“We encourage consumers to exercise their rights and patronise the establishments that offer cheaper alternatives,” she said.

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