27 December 2010, 6:26
AMInstability in world food prices has hit shopping baskets in the Emirates hard, with many consumers considering stocking up on necessities from neighbouring Oman.
Fresh fruit, vegetables and other commodities continue to rise sharply, with prices of vegetables having increased by 9.49 per cent, and fruits reaching 6.29 per cent — a startling figure considering the Emirate’s history in enjoying fresh produce in abundance.
Ameena Al Buteen, an Emirati housewife and mother of seven, is one of the many considering a shopping trip to Oman for commodities. “Shopping for the family is a huge affair in our household since there are 11 of us staying under one roof,” she said. “Even if we cut corners to ensure what we buy is fresh and healthy, how many corners can we cut if the prices keep going up? Oman has fresh fruit and certain vegetables, so maybe we will have to make monthly trips there.”
As early as October, fruits like apples and bananas used to sell for Dh6.75 and Dh4.20 per kg respectively, which now have hit a record high of Dh11.75 and Dh5.30 at most supermarkets in the city. Statistics show that the prices of fruits and vegetables have increased much more this year than the overall consumer price index (used to measure the inflation rate).
According to the Dubai Statistics Centre, the cost of living in Dubai has increased by a slight 0.61 per cent during the third quarter despite falling housing costs. Even non-perishables have seen a spike in pricing. A two-kilogram packet of sugar, which used to cost around Dh6.20, is now priced at high as Dh9.20 in smaller stores that don’t bulk purchase. Hypermarkets have tried to curb the increase, capping the price for 2kg of sugar at Dh7.50.
The Al Aweer fruit and vegetable market continues to thrive as a haven for the bulk-buying, budget-conscious grocery shopper. Mohammed Hasan, manager of AK General Trading at the fruit and vegetable market, noted how the regular customers still frequent the wholesale store, since most of his customer base are large families and blue-collar workers living in the neighbouring International City.
“Global food prices are definitely on the rise and as a consequence, everything is getting more expensive here since almost everything is imported. Oil and sugar, for example, have increased by at least 65 per cent, as far as I know,” he told Khaleej Times.
Meanwhile, long-established neighbourhood mini-marts like Al Marwa in Muraqqabat and Khaleefa in Al Quoz have a steady stream of regulars from the housing complexes nearby. “Yes, the prices are increasing, but what goes up must come down. I’m not going to impulsively or unfairly hike up prices for basic goods in my store because of this. At least, not yet,” said Basheer, the owner of Khaleefa Supermarket.
“Indian vegetables, cooking oil and sugar are the (goods) that have increased the most recently. We have increased those prices, of course, but only slightly. It wouldn’t be fair to expect my customers to bear the entire increase, so we have absorbed part of the cost,” he added. If food prices continue to soar, eventually even small-time business owners with a loyal customer base will begin to feel the pinch, leaving them no choice but to increase prices.
Jason Advani, a budget-wary shopper, felt that bigger supermarket chains were exploitative in their pricing. “(The bigger supermarkets) know that people need food to survive. High prices for food that is poor in quality is just not acceptable. I don’t think most people in Dubai will accept this. Everybody knows that (fresh produce) is not imported on a daily basis, so I think the retailers are taking advantage of the situation by selling (food) which they imported when the prices were lower. The real impact of the price hikes and export bans should take place at least after two or three weeks,” he said.
Local and regional produce has been anchoring prices with local chicken and Omani fruits staying relatively low despite the price fluctuations.