HORSHAM hospitality businesses are having to weather an unprecedented rise in the price of fruit and vegetables, as Australia faces supply chain shortages.
In the past month, empty shelves and $10 heads of iceberg lettuce have been reported across the country, with the floods in New South Wales and Queensland taking the blame.
In an effort to offset shortages, businesses such as fast-food retailer KFC have sought cost-saving solutions like switching out the lettuce in their burgers and wraps for cabbage.
Beyond many of the country's larger retailers, the rising price of vegetables have also hit local businesses and greengrocers.
For Horsham Thai Basil owner Pawel Poplawski, the price of staple ingredients in many of his meals, like broccoli, snow peas and beans have increased to unseen levels.
"Some of the produce we are using have gone up four or five times since the beginning of the year," he said.
"From what I understand it will be at least three months until prices return to normal. It takes about 12 weeks for those vegetables before they can be harvested again. We are not expecting to see a drop in prices for the next three months."
Mr Poplawski has operated the restaurant in Horsham for more than 14 years alongside his wife.
He said he sources most of his produce locally except for rare Asian vegetables, which he gets delivered from Melbourne.
Our customers have stuck with us and supported us through COVID, and without them, we would not be here. I cannot imagine putting up the prices now just to hit their pocket
Broccoli, for example, was one of the highest marked-up products, with an eight kilogram box rising from $20 to more than $85.
"Getting locally where possible. For Asian products, we have to get our supply in Melbourne. They have had to increase their prices because they are having an availability issue," he said.
"They do change seasonally, but they have never been so expansive as they are now."
Despite this, Mr Poplawski said he would not mark up the prices of meals at his restaurant, however urged community members to buy in town, to keep the local economy moving.
"Our customers have stuck with us and supported us through COVID, and without them, we would not be here. I cannot imagine putting up the prices now just to hit their pocket," he said.
"Now and through COVID, support local businesses. It is not just hospitality, but your local book store, clothing label, mattress store and pizza place. They are all affected by increased prices and they are only going to survive if we support them."
Exchange Hotel owner and Australian Hotel Association Wimmera representative Nick Murray said his business was facing similar price pressure.
"With floods down in Queensland and other environmental issues, all our cruciferous vegetables - obviously lettuce is quite topical," he said.
"Capsicum is up 15 per cent at the moment, and that is a popular vegetable used across all of our dishes."
Mr Murray said the price hike was not just limited to vegetables, with an increase in the price of chicken also hitting publicans in the hip pocket.
"We serve 140kg of chicken a week, that in itself is $280 extra you have to find. Then you add on fruit and vegetables and you are looking at cost increases across a meal between 15 to 30 per cent. In pubs, you are working on gross margins of somewhere around that," he said.
"Everything in the universe has gone up except the cost of a meal at a pub. If we kept pace instead of absorbing costs things would be 50 per cent higher."
The rising produce prices came as the region's hospitality businesses entered a typically slow winter period of trading.
Mr Murray said patronage has been down at his business and many others, and invited people to come out and enjoy a warm meal.
"The cost of living has absolutely been reflected in patronage. The last 5 to 6 weeks have been some of the poorest trading conditions we have had," he said.
"I think it is also a fact that people have got used to staying home through COVID, not going out as much as we need them to. We need people to get back out there and support venues through winter.
"Its not a matter of a lot of these venues thriving, it is a matter of surviving. They really need your help. Multinationals aren't going anywhere, they have had the best trading throughout COVID.
"Next time you are thinking about going to Maccas - check out your local cafe or pub. You will be surprised by the freshness and quality, and competitive cost."
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