Price of rice puffs up on island

Several months after South Asian flooding and subsequent rice shortages became national news, local customers who subsist on the starchy grain are still finding increasingly high prices at local stores.

Charlie Drummond

Several months after South Asian flooding and subsequent rice shortages became national news, local customers who subsist on the starchy grain are still finding increasingly high prices at local stores.

Olivia Nolasco, owner of Olive’s Oriental Food and Gifts, said because Thailand has been sending jasmine rice to the Phillipines in its time of need, the U.S. rice market has been struggling to meet its own demands.

Some local grocers like Lynn Gagen of Guy Hobby World and Mini Mart have had to put bag limits on her customers.

“It was a big jump,” Gagen recalled of the price increase. “It’s expensive. Customers are limited because everybody wants rice.”

She said many people have tried to buy multiple bags, especially in the last three months of the shortage.

Nolasco has not set a cap on her customers’ rice purchases, but she said “some of my customers are really stocking up.”

As an example, one of her customers recently bought five 50-pound bags of rice because she didn’t know when the shortage would end.

Those who use jasmine rice as a staple in their diets have reason to be concerned. They have witnessed a 50 percent increase since April, said Nolasco.

Nolasco compared her prices for 5, 10, 25 and 50-pound bags before and after the shortage, and in nearly every case, the price had more than doubled.

Gagen said her mini mart has also seen similar price hikes. For example, a 25-pound bag that used to cost around $11 is now $22.99.

“Most Filipinos eat rice three times a day,” said Nolasco, and this has put a strain on many Filipino families. “When you get old like me, you try to slow down on rice because of the carbohydrates. Our kids are grown and we don’t eat as much rice.”

However, for those families who are already dealing with high gas prices, rice is just one more additional financial concern.

“We had to adjust our budget a lot,” said Violy Gambes, a Guy Hobby World and Mini Mart customer and consumer of rice. “Instead of eating rice three times a day, we eat it once a day.”

Gambes, who goes through 50 pounds of rice a month, normally feeds a family of four in addition to any relatives who show up.

“We often get relatives every day,” said Gambes. “They just seem to come.”

Another Guy Mini Market customer, Art Pasag, doesn’t like the high rice prices, but he still continues to buy it.

“If I need it, I’ll still buy it,” said Pasag.

Sweet Rice Thai Cuisine restaurant in Oak Harbor has not raised its prices, but it’s had to make some adjustments.

“We usually serve our food with rice at no extra charge,” said Narumon Allen, manager. “We give a smaller bowl now.”

Allen said a few customers have complained about smaller amounts, but most understand that the prices have skyrocketed. She said before she could buy a 50-pound bag from her supplier for just over $20, but now the cost is $35.50. The restaurant usually goes through 100 pounds of rice per week.

Susan Chen, manager of the Jumbo Buffet Asian Grill and Sushi Bar, said “the price has increased around $5 to $10 for a 50-pound bag,” but she is not passing that cost on to her customers.

“It’s getting better,” said Gagen. “At least the prices have leveled off.”

For local rice-eaters, vendors and restauranteers, the hope is that the price of rice has already crested.

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