Shoppers hunt for bargains to keep food costs low in UAE, Jordan and Saudi Arabia

Consumers say shopping smart helps take the sting out of the rising cost of living even though prices of food staples are regulated by the government

Verodiana Rodrigues, a financial planner and former Dubai schoolteacher, says she saves more than 50 per cent by shopping prudently. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Across the world, the rising cost of living has made it difficult for many to afford basic goods and services. Crop failures and soaring energy prices are all contributing to global rising inflation rates as millions struggle to make ends meet.

Since January, 'The National' has been tracking the prices of food staples in supermarkets across the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in India, the UK and US to see how consumers have been affected.

Many shoppers have begun plotting shopping strategies, routinely searching for discounts and reining in other spending as higher prices influence their purchasing patterns.

In several countries in the Middle East, governments monitor the cost of essential food items to keep inflation in check.

But households across the region say they are feeling the pinch as cost of living rises generally, stretching their salaries and putting their weekly shopping list under pressure.

When you go to a big supermarket, greed takes over need and you feel you have to buy more
Verodiana Rodrigues, Dubai resident

Thrifty shoppers have instead begun seeking out offers, buying in bulk and keeping an eye on their consumption as they devise methods to balance their budget.

Dubai’s bargain hunters

Verodiana Rodrigues, a former Dubai schoolteacher, shops depending on the offers available on specific days at various local shops.

She buys slightly bruised vegetables and fruits passed up by other shoppers and uses an online app that offers bargains on group purchases — all this, she said, has drastically reduced her weekly bill.

“It does not matter what the fruit looks like as long as it tastes good,” said the 55-year-old, who monitors bargain deals daily.

“I have learnt to pick what I need.

“When you go to a big supermarket, greed takes over need and you feel you have to buy more and more.”

Verodiana Rodrigues, a financial planner and former Dubai schoolteacher, uses an app that offers big discounts on bulk orders. Chris Whiteoak / The National

A financial consultant by day, she also sells speciality cuisine from India’s Goa state as a hobby in her spare time.

Her weekly household shopping bill is usually under Dh15 when she uses WeGotWe, an online platform that offers discounts when friends or family place orders together.

Users must collect the goods themselves and pickup locations can be the home of a neighbour who uses the same service.

Shopping smart fills her basket with onions priced below Dh1.5 per kilogram, tomatoes under Dh2 a kg and 500g carrots at 99 fils.

Ms Rodrigues said being prudent has always been important even before the school she worked in closed down in 2019.

“It’s not just because I lost my job. I’m a person who believes that if I save, I can use the money for something else,” she said.

Yasmin Khoury cuts costs by buying products nearing their sell-by date from Baqer Mohebi outlets, a company known for offering discounted rates on items nearing expiration.

“There are brands you may have never heard of and it does not have great variety but it’s all good quality” she said.

“I buy in bulk and freeze.

“It could be fresh chicken or shrimp and I turn tomatoes into paste for use later.”

Last year, the UAE government imposed price controls on essential items including cooking oil, fresh milk, rice, sugar, bread, flour, cleaning detergent and lentils.

In February, authorities allowed a temporary rise in eggs and poultry products due to high production costs from suppliers. The government said prices would continue to be monitored.

For Aabgina Khan, a mother of three who looks after a large family in a nine-bedroom Dubai villa, inflation is a teaching moment.

“I love cooking and I cook for 20 people every day,” said the 45-year-old. “I order ketchup, rice or sugar in bulk.”

Ms Khan drives her younger children to school but no longer drops her daughter off at college in Internet City, insisting the teenager take the metro.

The UAE raised fuel prices for the second month in a row in March. The rise by over 1.3 per cent a litre was marginal compared to February when prices went up more than 10 per cent.

“She is very upset and there is a daily argument when she asks why I can’t pick up and drop her,” Ms Khan said.

“I give her money to take an Uber or eat food.

“I tell her it’s a waste of money to drop her.

“Kids today are used to everything easy. I want her to learn.

“We were raised to be responsible, so should the next generation.”

Fuel prices sting Jordan’s farmers

While fuel prices in Jordan have not fluctuated drastically this year, there was a sharp rise over the past three years, particularly for diesel, the fuel that powers the agricultural sector.

Diesel prices have risen 66 per cent since 2020 to $1.10 a litre, while petrol rose 42 per cent to $1.30 over the same period.

A surge in fuel prices last year set off violent protests in December, mainly in southern Jordan.

A fuel tax of 52 cents per litre of petrol and 23 cents per litre of diesel remains a heavy load on consumers.

Youssef, a farmer in Jerash, north of Amman, said the fuel price rise squeezes the meagre margins he makes from ploughing the land for other farmers and tending to olive groves that belong to Jordanian landowners living overseas.

“Running costs have gone up massively because of the diesel price rises,” said Youssef, who owns a tractor and a pickup truck that run on diesel.

“There is no other option in Jordan except to use diesel for lorries.

“Even if there was, I cannot afford changing the vehicles I own.”

An International Monetary Fund report in January, estimated inflation in Jordan was 4.4 per cent last year, compared with 1.3 per cent in 2021.

Despite a rise in prices, inflation “remains moderate and should ease in the period ahead,” the report said. “With elevated unemployment and commodity prices, social conditions remain challenging.”

Saudi shoppers feel the pinch

FILE PHOTO: A Saudi woman wearing protective gloves shops at a supermarket, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri/File Photo

Some shoppers in Saudi Arabia say they have dropped expensive items from the shopping list and begun settling for low-cost alternatives as they feel the pressure of a higher cost of living.

“Prices of everything has been going up,” said Talal Qureishi, shopping for a family of four at Danube, a mid-range supermarket in Jeddah.

The family’s sole breadwinner, Mr Qureishi listed out changes in his shopping habits to keep expenditure under control.

“We cut down a great deal on exotic fruits, imported drinks, like no more of fancy cola.

“We have switched to cheaper alternatives.

“One has to be mindful when buying groceries a lot more than say five years ago.”

In July last year, the Saudi government allocated 10 billion riyals ($2.66bn) to counter the impact of global prices by supporting strategic stocks of wheat and barley and lending to the private sector to purchase main commodities such as corn and soybeans for six months.

Ruwaina A, who lives alone, was thankful bread, milk and yoghurt were subsidised by the government.

One Saudi riyal fetches four [pitta] bread and a small container of yoghurt is capped at 2 riyals.

But her monthly salary no longer stretches as it once used to with the five per cent VAT introduced in 2018 adding to steep grocery bills.

“I realised my accounts weren't making sense so I started to do the maths,” she said.

“I have [become] very careful shopping now.”

Updated: April 04, 2023, 7:59 AM