Still affordable: Lee’s parents Tak Tsong and Mei Yap holding up bird’s nests and gingko at their shop in Campbell Street.
GEORGE TOWN: Prices of Chinese herbs are up, dealing a blow to consumers as they prepare to celebrate Chinese New Year.
Chinese herbs, along with dried delicacies, are consumed year-round as they are essential ingredients in cooking and making of medicinal potions, but demand usually peaks in the run-up to the Lunar New Year.
A check at several shops here showed that most of the items cost more than last year.
Owner of Cheng Woh Medical Hall in Campbell Street, Lee Xi Wen, 28, said the prices have been on the rise since 2008 and some of the items now cost 300% more.
“Customers complain but the hike is inevitable and out of our control. The price increases have affected our business. Our customer base is still the same but they are buying fewer items,” he said yesterday.
Lee said among the items that cost more now are pilose asiabell root (dangshen), ginseng (ren shen), cordyceps (dong chong cao), fragrant solomon seal (yu zhu), lily buds (bai he), Chinese angelica (dong gui) and chrysanthemum flower (ju hua).
He said the price of a kilo of pilose asiabell root and cordyceps in 2008 were RM40 and RM40,000 respectively, but they now cost RM150 and RM140,000, respectively.
“Even the tiniest and cheapest quality ginseng is RM300 per kilo, when it was just RM50 per kilo in 2008,” he added.
Lee attributed the price hikes to global and local agriculture commodity prices, as well as higher operational and transportation costs.
“The value of the ringgit has dropped, while the renminbi (Chinese currency) is getting stronger.
“We didn’t increase the price of certain items but we reduced our profit margin to ensure customers return,” he said, adding that most of their products came from China and South Africa, while ginseng came from the United States.
Lee, however, said a handful of items are cheaper, like bird’s nest and gingko.
Federation of Chinese Physicians and Medicine Dealers Associations of Malaysia secretary-general Kerk Ee Chan said there were two reasons for the price increase of Chinese herbs.
“Demand for herbs in China is high but production and supply are low because farmers in China are no longer keen on farming herbs due to low earnings,” he said.
“Another reason is that our ringgit has depreciated.”
He added that prices were expected to continue to increase over the next few months.