DISSATISFACTION over pricing led to a shouting match between two women selling cookies at a makeshift market’s corner in my neighbourhood recently.

According to a stall keeper who had been keeping track of the proceedings, one woman had set up a counter to sell Chinese New Year cookies last week. Offering a wide range of festive favourites, she had been receiving a steady stream of customers.

A few days later, another woman also set up hers. Located at a shout’s distance away, the second stall, however, only sold pineapple tarts. The crowd that would usually gather around the first stall was split between the two and more customers were seen leaving with boxes of pineapple tarts from the new stall.

What led to the shouting match, I was told, was the pricing. The first woman had priced her pineapple tarts, the size of a thumb each, at RM40 per medium-sized box of about 50 pieces.

The newcomer priced hers lower at RM28 for a similarly sized package. When one customer compared the prices and told the first woman that her pineapple tarts were too expensive, she was fuming. In a moment’s indiscretion, she replied that if stuff was cheap, it could not possibly be good.

Her rival, having heard her words, returned the sarcasm with an equally toxic quip by telling her customer that some people used festive seasons to make a killing. A shouting match erupted and instead of attracting customers with their festive cookies, the two vendors became the star attraction, much to the amusement of onlookers.

If you have tried making pineapple tarts for your own consumption, you will know how labour intensive it is, especially if you have to make the filling yourself. You will need several fruits and a good deal of sugar to make just a kilo of the jam-like filling.

A good half-a-day will have to be spent to make sure the filling reaches the right consistency and not burn up in your pot. Then you will need a couple of hours more to prepare the pastry and bake them.

On average, a medium-sized bottle of pineapple tarts costs between RM25 and RM35, depending on how elaborate they are aesthetically. Dainty ones with embedded filling and little “eyes” that make them look like tiny pineapples are generally more expensive than those that look like biscuits with jam topping.

For the home-made ones, there is a very slim profit margin, all costs considered. Many occasional confectioners I know make them just for fun – to recoup a little of their initial capital, not to earn big money, especially these days when prices of ingredients are already sky-high, minus GST.

When I told my wife about the incident involving the two cookie vendors, she was amused. “That is why I am not making to sell,” she said, reminding me of the many times I had persuaded her to make and sell cookies.

My constant pestering was a result of encouragement from friends who had tasted her cookies. They had urged us to make more and sell. I had bought the idea that people were willing to pay high prices for quality food, which, on hindsight, might not necessarily be true.

Having spent a couple of festivals in the past helping my wife source for and purchase ingredients, I had also subconsciously calculated all the costs and compared them with the expected profit we were to make if we were to price them at the market’s average.

In the end, I had to agree with my wife that it was more rewarding to give them away as festive gifts to friends and family. The compliments that came our way, well, we’ll just treat them as bonus.

There is no fortune to be made in making cookies and don’t believe it even if fortune cookies tell you so.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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