Link Reit insists refurbished wet markets attract more shoppers, amid calls for lower rents and food prices

Company has come under fire recently, with claims that high rents have driven out small businesses

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2016, 10:02pm

Refurbished wet markets have attracted 30 to 50 per cent more customers, the Link Reit said amid criticism of high food prices at its markets.

Myron Ng Hung-fai, assistant general manager of the Link, revealed the figures after the company said last month that it would not lower rents, saying poor facilities were to blame for low occupancy in some of its 78 wet markets.

“There were up to 50 per cent more shoppers in some wet markets after renovation, on average we had 30 per cent more. Amounts of goods sold have also increased,” Ng said on a DBC radio programme yesterday.

The Link’s management of malls and wet markets, which it acquired from the government in 2005, has come under fire, with critics saying the company has pushed up rents and driven out small businesses.

The government recently identified the problem as one of three contentious issues it aimed to resolve, and top officials have met company bosses to discuss concerns.

While 14 of the Link’s wet markets have already been renovated, including the Siu Sai Wan Market, which introduced the “i-Chicken stall” to allow customers to select live chickens via video link, Ng hopes to renovate the remaining wet markets gradually.

“After renovation, we are concerned whether the wet markets can sustainably develop and tenants continue their business,” Ng said, adding that while the Link has been criticised for selling overpriced fresh food, the needs of different types of customers have to be considered.

“There should be a wide range of goods ... [and] prices too. While we have to take care of affordability of the grassroots, we also have to sell products with higher quality,” Ng said.

He said rent should not be the sole factor blamed for rising food prices, which were said to be a global trend.

“Ninety-five per cent of food in Hong Kong is from mainland China. Currency rates and minimum wages also affect the prices,” he said. “Rent is one of the reasons [for the rise], but it is not the major reason.”

He claimed rents at Link wet markets took up 10 per cent of the retailers’ revenue, l compared to the 15 to 20 per cent at private markets not operated by the Link or the Food and Environmental Health Department.

The Link runs 78 markets out of the some 300 wet markets in the city.

Sophia So Lok-yee, chairwoman of concern group Link Watch, was sceptical that the upgraded markets were serving the needs of local residents.

“Indeed the wet markets are looking prettier, but now they are also selling high-end food such as Parma ham – is that what public estate residents are looking for? Can they afford to buy [it]?” So said.

She said many wet markets were located in public estates and supposed to serve those on low income living there.

Despite Link claims that the number of customers had risen, she questioned whether market shops had benefitted.

“Does it mean more people are buying? Has the revenue indeed increased?” she said.

“It is useless if there are more visitors who aren’t actually buying.”