Mom-and-pop restaurants reeling from shortage, high prices of onions
Restaurateurs are crying for help as skyrocketing onion prices upend menus and force them to cut profits amid a supply shortage of the humble root vegetable that is used to flavor sauces or add a spicy, crunchy kick to a variety of dishes.
Well-established chains such as tycoon Lucio Co’s S&R pizza and burger outlets made headlines when they decided to stop using onions altogether given the nationwide shortage.
But small business owners said they were pressured to maintain the same quality or risk losing customers.
“This is so frustrating and it’s challenging for us that we’re experiencing this crisis over a basic food ingredient. There really needs to be a clear solution to this problem soon,” Sandy Gonzales, a businesswoman who started private catering company Gourmet Treats PH four years ago, told the Inquirer.
Gonzales said onions were essential for achieving a deeper flavor for her bestseller dishes such as pasta puttanesca and paella.
She added that her customers were discerning and would easily notice if she scrimped on her ingredients.
“I opted not to increase my prices as I want to protect my customers,” she added.
The Department of Agriculture, led by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., appeared to retreat from earlier comments downplaying the onion price surge.
It announced this week plans to import over 21,000 metric tons of red and yellow onions to boost supply as retail prices remain near P600 per kilogram—still about three times the suggested retail price.
More inexpensive options could be found from online sellers.
On the social media platform Facebook, a group called Sibuyas Onion Philippines has over 39,000 members. Some sellers here are able to match the suggested retail price but require buyers to purchase large sacks weighing several kilograms each, making these inaccessible to households and businesses seeking to control costs and potential spoilage.
Chef Jan Rodriguez, who operates The Weekend restaurant and cocktail bar in Cebu City, said dishes like liver pate and bacon marmalade are simply removed from the menu when onions become unavailable.
The business is also careful with price increases, unless the vegetable is the star of the dish.
“For onion rings or beef and onions, we can opt to increase the price to a degree that the effort and [profit] margins still make sense,” Roridguez said.
Retail onion prices remain high, with a popular supermarket along Quezon Avenue, Quezon City selling these for P550 per kg as of Thursday.
Chona, a home cook who sells classic Filipino dishes at her small eatery a few streets away, keeps onions on the menu but at drastically reduced quantities.
“Kahit papaano naglalagay kami (we still manage to put onions despite the high price),” she said.
One of her bestseller dishes is tokwa’s baboy, a fried pork and tofu dish garnished with slices of bright green chilli pepper and red onion.
“Hindi pwede mawala yan (we cannot serve customers this food without onions),” she added.
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