It may become known as The Great Bean Sprout Shortage of 2001.
Shortage of sprouts
hits isle suppliers
By Pat Gee
For the third week in a row, bean sprouts are in short supply
Regular supplies of the common stir-fry, salad and sandwich item may be available by month's end. But in the meantime, restaurants and grocery stores in Hawaii are coping with higher prices.
It all started more than two weeks ago when HPC Foods Ltd., the primary grower and wholesaler of mung and other types of bean sprouts, closed its processing plant to upgrade equipment to meet new safety standards from the Food and Drug Administration and the International Sprout Growers Association, said Eric Enomoto, company treasurer and controller.
HPC and Armstrong Produce Ltd., another major wholesaler, have been bringing in sprouts from the mainland to satisfy the demand.
Kelvin Shigemura, vice president of Armstrong, said his company is "paying quite a bit more. What kills us is the air fare. Sprouts are a highly perishable product and we have to fly it in."
Because air freight has more than doubled the price to the wholesaler, people may have to pay 50 percent more for sprouts in the supermarkets, he said.
Anna Wong, manager of Produce Market, which supplies more than 160 Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants on Oahu with sprouts, said she is able to sell only half as much to her customers as they request. Her costs are higher, but she is trying not to pass on the charges to customers to help them out, Wong said.
A handful of Asian restaurants in Chinatown are paying at least double, but are not passing the cost on to customers since the shortage may be over soon. So a bowl of the Vietnamese staple, pho, and a plate of Chinese noodles probably won't cost any more than usual, said restaurant owners.
Ann Tran, owner of A Little Bit of Saigon restaurant on Maunakea Street, said she used to pay 50 cents a pound for sprouts, but is now paying $1 for the same amount. John Yung, owner of Cafe Orient on Maunakea, said he was paying about three times more the normal price for sprouts when the shortage first hit Jan. 6, and is now paying a little more than double. Neither is passing the increase on to their customers.
Maxime and Pho 97 Vietnamese restaurants in the same area also reported a shortage and higher prices at nearby downtown markets.
Mimi Chang, manager of the Mauna Kea Marketplace in Chinatown, said the price of a 5-pound bag used to be $2.50; it's now $4.25.
Foodland and Sack 'N Save Foods have posted signs informing customers of the shortage, but are still charging 79 cents for a 10-ounce bag of sprouts.
Star Market in Moiliili is filling its shelves with celery and carrot sticks and prepackaged salads from the mainland to make up for the lack of sprouts, according to Sean Shoemaker, assistant produce manager. Times Super Market in McCully was doing the same.
According to Harrison Kuranishi, a produce clerk at the Safeway market on Beretania, the mainland company is trying to get sprouts from Big Island grower Lone Palm, but the small wholesaler may not be able to supply enough for the chain's 18 stores.
He said by the time Safeway would be able to get approval from its parent company to send over sprouts from the mainland, the bean sprout problem will be over -- by month's end.
"It's a lot of money we're losing," Kuranishi said, because sprouts are one of the best sellers in the produce section due to the various ethnic backgrounds of Safeway's customers.