These days Sri Lankans are struggling to make ends meet more than ever as the economic situation has become uneasy and unkind to all.
Mahinda is a senior citizen who cannot even speak out loud to be heard. When Ceylon Today entered a bakery in Athurugiriya we could see this elderly man with just Rs 50 in his hand, debating whether to get a bus to go home or to snap up a bun to satiate his hunger.
He lamented that when he came last time the bun he usually buys was only Rs 75 and now it is Rs 90 and at the moment he was looking to eat something for Rs 50 or less but unfortunately he could not get anything for Rs 50 at the bakery.
Upali has been working at this bakery for 31 years. He also accepted the laments by his customer and sighed saying they are helpless at the moment and waved him away. Upali said that some people cannot afford baked goods and just leave after hearing the prices. He claimed that they keep running the bakery bearing losses as they cannot close down production completely.
Hard hit by the economic crisis, he said they had to reduce the number of workers and now there are only two workers instead of seven. Showing the empty chairs Upali told they were enough for all the customers back when the restaurant was in business. They have also reduced production as they do not want to throw away food and cannot bear the loss.
Drop in quality
Rangi, one of Upali’s regular customers for nearly four years, complained that standards have dropped since the crisis started.
“To be honest I can only taste some potato pieces in the fish bun. I have been coming to this eatery for nearly four years and their products were fresh and good in quality but since two months ago, the quality has dropped and the price has gone up,” she added while eating the fish bun. She also said that if people are more concerned about the standard, they can go to reputed bakeries knowing that the price is high.
In the meantime, there are noticeable changes even in reputed bakeries such as price and the size where the prices has been increased and sizes reduced, further anonymous sources said that some bakeries have dropped standards by reducing fillers. For example even if the item is described as ‘chicken samosa’ it hardly tastes like chicken.
Sumith Ariyarathna is a shopkeeper in Athurugiriya. He said that he started the shop four years ago after working eight years abroad. He lamented that from the day he started the shop there have been problems in the country and he says that the system is the major problem.
He said that customers have reduced due to the skyrocketing prices of goods.
Ariyarathna said that instead of buying bread for Rs 230, people think of buying 1kg of rice and eat two meals at least, so his bread stay on the racks.
He also lamented that people are complaining regarding the quality of bread. Accordingly, when Ariyarathna complained to bakery owners, they said that the problem has to do with the wheat flour and that they could not do anything about it.
Showing his expired packets of cream buns and bread, he said that it is a big loss for the company. He also said that he used to fill the racks with baked goods as demand was high but now he has limited the quantity and still stocks remain unsold for two days.
Aseli and her family have been running an eatery for 12 years. They noticed the number of customers reducing for over three months and with that their income. As a result they only buy limited stocks.
W. Shantha has been a customer of Aseli’s for three years and with his experience he said that the number of customers have reduced by over 40 per cent. He lamented that the prices of baked goods has increased. Yet the quality is satisfactory for the price.
“What I have noticed is that even though the price is same, the quality is different from bakery to bakery,” he added while eating a piece of bread for breakfast.
Wijepala has been a server in Aseli’s eatery for seven years and said that within just five months the number of customers has reduced drastically. He said he had no time to stay and chat before but now there are only few at the eatery so he can easily handle the tables. Madushanka an eatery owner in Borella has also been running a bakery for nearly a year. The shelves were stacked full of buns. Madushanka said that since two to three months, the number of customers has decreased with the prices going up. He said they have reduced production by 40 per cent because of the drop in customers.
He also lamented that there were ten eateries that used to buy food items from him and now six of them have refused to purchase items as demand is low.
Sampath Gunasekara, a regular customer at Madusanka’s eatery, who was having his breakfast said that even though the price has increased there are no changes to quality. He opined that the situation is understandable with the current crisis and the dollar rate.
When contacted the Chairman of All Ceylon Bakery Owners’ Association, N.K. Jayawardana said that production has been reduced by 50 per cent due to the current situation with more than 2,000 bakeries closing down.
Meanwhile All Island Canteen Owners’ Association (AICOA) chairman said that there is a no proper national policy to check the quality of the food. He said that it is a shame Sri Lanka still has the Consumer Affairs Act of 1980.
He said that due to the increase in prices, bakeries has resorted to alternative methods in search of profits, therefore even though the average loaf of bread should be around 450-400 grams, now it is around 200 to 250 grams.
“However, this time we are going through is a difficult and demand for quality bakery products should be satisfied at a price people can spent as no one wants to incur any losses,” he said.
By Kanchana Kolagolla