Vegetables Pricier Than Pork Worry Chinese Consumers as Costs Swell

By Reuters
October 27, 2021 Updated: October 27, 2021

BEIJING—Vegetable prices are surging in China after heavy rain swamped crops this month, fuelling concern over food prices at a time when consumers must brace for a hike in energy costs in the run-up to winter.

Unusually heavy rains drenched northern swathes of China in September and early this month, flooding the top vegetable-growing province of Shandong.

“All the vegetables are dead in the ground,” said Zhou Rui, a farmer who cultivates about 7 hectares (17 acres) in the Juancheng county of the province.

There was little left to pick after fields of spinach, cabbage, and coriander were flooded, she added, while some farmers had not replanted as the weather had already become too cold.

The price of spinach has jumped to 16.67 yuan ($2.61) per kg this week from 6.67 yuan in late September, a price index published in the provincial vegetable trading hub of Shouguang showed.

The prices of broccoli, cucumbers, and cabbage have also more than doubled in recent weeks.

The rocketing prices are a hot topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, with many users saying vegetables now cost more than pork, the nation’s staple meat.

“Coriander is now 17.8 yuan per half kilo, it really is more expensive than pork!” wrote one user in the eastern province of Anhui.

A butcher cuts a piece of pork at a market in Beijing, China on March 25, 2016. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

The average wholesale price of vegetables in the capital has jumped by 39.8 percent since last month, while some leafy vegetables rose more than 50 percent, the city officials said on Tuesday.

Authorities in Beijing have warned that prices could rise further in the next few weeks, as the city looks further south to source its vegetables when temperatures fall and high energy prices boost transport costs.

High vegetable prices are unlikely to push up overall consumer price inflation, but they come as soaring fuel costs look set to be gradually passed on to consumers.

“It’s a very sharp increase, so it’s very noticeable,” said Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia commodity analyst at StoneX. “We may see consumers budgeting purchasing of other things in response.”

Higher energy prices are also pushing up operating costs for greenhouses, in addition to record prices this year for fertiliser.

“Our natural gas prices are up at least 100 percent and we think they could triple during Chinese New Year,” said Xu Dan, manager of the HortiPolaris greenhouse in Beijing, referring to China’s most important holiday, due next February.

“I have to find a way to increase our energy efficiency. You can’t ask consumers to pay three times the price.”

Chinese coal prices have gained nearly 190 percent this year on tight supplies.

($1=6.38268 Chinese yuan renminbi)

By Dominique Patton