Unlike a designer handbag or a weekend brunch, groceries are a necessary expense – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to limit the financial damage. Along with rent, transportation and school fees, food can put a big dent in the monthly budget, so it is important to spend wisely and choose carefully.
In the UAE, there are many grocery options ranging from small baqalas to massive hypermarkets. While the closest store or the online delivery option may be the most convenient, it may not be the most cost-effective.
At Carrefour, which has around 100 outlets in the Emirates, the concept is “to find everything you need under the same roof,” says Philippe Peguilhan, country manager of Carrefour UAE. “The customers don’t really need to work hard to find suitable deals. The deals are everywhere – from fresh food to groceries to textiles to house goods.”
Other supermarkets with a large presence include Lulu with more than 70 stores and Spinneys with around 60. Al Maya Group has almost 50 branches and Choithrams close to 40. Union Co-operative Society has 17.
In a 2018 Souqalmal.com study comparing grocery bills at those six supermarkets, Carrefour was the cheapest, followed by Union Co-Op, Lulu, Spinneys, Choithrams and Al Maya. The study compared the total cost of 11 items, including milk, bread, eggs, potatoes, Pampers, Tide laundry detergent and Dettol cleaner. The bill total ranged from Dh149.75 at Carrefour to Dh187.50 at Al Maya.
There are other factors to consider besides price, including product quality and store experience. For example, at Spinneys, which has the tag line “the fresher experience”, the view is that “high quality and high freshness products … go further than inferior quality products,” says Morne Fourie, general manager of marketing for Spinneys and Waitrose.
“We will give you the best possible product for the price,” he says. “If you take something like apples, Spinneys will have apples on the shelf – the best possible apples – for Dh9.95, but we will also have the most beautiful, latest imported Fiji apples from Japan at Dh28 a kilo.”
Regardless of where you shop, all these retailers offer different ways to save, whether through loyalty programmes, credit cards, their own branded products, locally sourced food or in-store promotions. Here we break down the art of the grocery deal.
Supermarket loyalty programmes are free and can usually be applied for online through the website or mobile app. “It’s a good idea to apply for loyalty cards at only those establishments which you visit regularly,” says Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com.
Carrefour’s My Club gives .05 points for every Dh1 spent, so a Dh1,000 shopping trip would earn 50 points. For every 500 points accumulated, you get a Dh50 Carrefour discount.
However, My Club will soon be replaced by Share, a rewards programme from Majid Al Futtaim. Share will allow members to earn and redeem points across 2,300 stores in 16 MAF malls. In most stores, you can earn 2.5 points per Dh100 spent, while Vox cinemas and Ski Dubai give 30 points and hotels and restaurants 150 points. At Carrefour, users will earn 5 points per Dh100 spent if it is an outlet inside a MAF mall. For redemption, each 10 points is equal to Dh1.
Mr Peguilhan says My Club customers will continue to get the same benefits, such as 20 per cent off Carrefour-branded products on Tuesdays (given back in loyalty points). But now customers will be able to shop anywhere in the mall and redeem those points at Carrefour, and vice versa. “We see big, big additional savings for all our customers,” he says.
Union Co-op’s loyalty programme Tamayaz offers gold cards for shareholders and silver cards for non-shareholders. Both give one point per Dh1. Gold members need to collect 3,000 points and silver members 4,000 to earn a Dh50 redemption voucher. Therefore, in comparison to Carrefour, it would take three or four Dh1,000 shopping trips, rather than 10 shopping trips, to earn Dh50.
Although Spinneys does not have a loyalty programme, it is a partner with the Air Miles card and each Dh1 spent is equal to 1 air mile. To redeem at Spinneys, a Dh100 voucher costs 14,000 miles. That means it would take seven Dh1,000 shopping trips to earn Dh50. You can cut that in half by using the HSBC credit card to get double air miles.
When it comes to credit cards, there are cashback credit cards and co-branded credit cards that help you save at particular supermarkets. “It is best to keep your specific requirements in mind when deciding which singular credit card or credit card mix works best for you,” Ms Musa says.
She recommends looking into these six cashback credit cards: Standard Chartered Platinum; Emirates Islamic Cashback Plus; CBD Super Saver; HSBC Cashback; ADIB Spice; and RAKBank World. The supermarket cashback amount varies from Dh100 per month with ADIB Spice to Dh400 per month with Standard Chartered Platinum. Some come with annual fees and minimum-spend criteria.
For example, RAKBank World gives up to 10 per cent cash back on grocery expenditure to a maximum of Dh400 monthly, but only if you spend at least Dh20,000 monthly. There is no annual fee for the first year, but you must spend a minimum of Dh50,000 annually to waive the Dh750 fee for subsequent years.
The benefit of this card is that it is valid on grocery spend worldwide, so “you can use this feature anywhere you travel", says Jonathan Rawling, chief financial officer of yallacompare.com.
Co-branded credit cards include Najm for Carrefour, ADCB Lulu and Emirates Islamic Union Co-Op.
Najm Platinum and Platinum Plus Cashback credit cards offer up to 6 per cent cash back at Carrefour every Tuesday and up to 3 per cent cash back daily. The cards also save time with dedicated Najm checkout counters. Platinum is free, but Platinum Plus has an annual fee of Dh420. There is a minimum Dh7,000 salary requirement.
ADCB’s Lulu card is available at three levels: standard; titanium/gold; and platinum. There are no annual fees, but each comes with a different salary requirement from Dh5,000 to Dh15,000. The standard card gives 1.5 Lulu points for every Dh1, while platinum gives five points per Dh1. Every 5,000 points equals a Dh50 voucher.
The Emirates Islamic Union Co-op Tamayaz credit card is free for life and earns up to 3 points for every Dh1 spent at Union Co-op (triple the amount of the traditional loyalty programme).
Many supermarkets have their own branded products at a cheaper price. Spinneys, for example, has its Spinneys Food brand, which from a quality point of view is “at the positioning of the market leader in that category or better", Mr Fourie says.
“So when we go source that product, it’s at 100 per cent quality of the brand leader or it’s 5 per cent better than the brand leader. But we always aim to sell it between 5 and 10 per cent less than the brand leader,” he says.
Locally sourced products
It is no surprise that many supermarket products are imported, given the UAE’s desert climate and limited local production. Spinneys, for example, directly imports about 35 per cent of the products in its stores and also buys imported products through distributors.
But increasingly there are local options. Spinneys is the first retailer to offer organically farmed local salmon from Fish Farm. Priced at Dh99 per kilogram, it is more expensive than Norwegian salmon at Dh65 per kg but less expensive than organic Irish salmon at Dh128 per kg.
Carrefour buys fresh fruits and vegetables from more than 600 farms in the UAE. Paying Dh3 a kg for local tomatoes versus Dh20 for tomatoes flown in from the Netherlands can make a big difference to your bill.
Even nearly identical products can differ dramatically in cost based on their origins. A Cheerios box packaged in the UAE costs around Dh12, but an imported brand will set you back Dh22.
Supermarkets have special promotions, bulk discounts and banded packs on a daily basis but never assume the big “deal” sign means the product is cheaper than another day. Prices change often and the customer is at the end of the chain after negotiations with the supplier, says Mr Peguilhan. A deal means it is good value “in line with the market prices”, he explains.
It is still worth looking at the promotional flyers at the front of the store to see what is on offer. Lulu publishes more than 300,000 weekly promotional booklets, puts updates on its social media channels and has the option to subscribe to its newsletter.
“We continuously monitor the market to come up with competitive price points, especially during peak seasons like Ramadan, where we freeze the prices of certain commodities, so that shoppers can enjoy stress-free shopping,” says V Nandakumar, chief communications officer of Lulu Group.
With all these money-saving tips, hopefully shoppers can enjoy stress-free shopping at any time of year.