Delay of fresh goods puts squeeze on small business

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 July, 1998, 12:00am

Restaurateur Glenn Kerrigan is filling his hand luggage with vegetables from daily shopping trips to Thailand just to keep his business alive.

'It's absolutely crazy that we're being forced to get on passenger planes and carry a cargo of vegetables on board. But I'll be doing this for as long as it takes,' he said, with 30kg of produce in luggages at his side. 'What else can I do?' The owner of four restaurants with a total 150 staff was at a press conference given by officials at the new airport yesterday, hoping to get some answers.

'I want to hear from those responsible for this debacle as to how they are going to shorten the delay, and whether they are considering compensating those who have suffered hardship . . . But I won't be holding my breath.' Mr Kerrigan estimates $50,000 was lost in perishable goods for his four restaurants - Wyndham Street Thai, Wyndham Street Deli, Noodle Box and La Bodega.

He was now concerned that small and medium business owners would take a back seat to supermarkets and other large operators when the cargo ban is lifted.

'Continuity of business is essential to what we do. If I can't guarantee what I'm feeding my customers, what hope do I have?' Kathy Kingston, who imports fresh seafood under her company Master Champion Holdings, said suppliers were refusing to send goods out of fear insurance claims might be refused.

'If I have 50 per cent less to sell, then I have 50 per cent less profit and my payroll remains the same,' she said, estimating losses had run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The vice-chairman of Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce's Small and Medium Enterprise Committee, Maria Cheung Huang, said the debacle was causing headaches and risking deals for a variety of businesses and not just importers of produce.