Groceries make up one of the biggest expenses for UAE residents during Ramadan. With iftars, suhoors and then Eid to prepare for, it is easy for families to overspend.
However, advanced planning and preparation can help shoppers save thousands on their food bills.
Supermarket retailers and online grocery platforms run month-long promotions, discounts and deals during the holy month.
There is also a host of Facebook groups that have been set up to help residents stick to their grocery budgets by highlighting the best available deals in the market and offering tips on how to save money.
“Buy in bulk when you can and go prepared with a list of items required,” says Debbie Steedman, co-founder and administrator of Facebook community page Shop Well For Less.
The group encourages members to share the Ramadan deals they spot when they are out shopping.
This is a strategy also used by the administrators of another Facebook group, Dirham Stretcher, to make their members’ budgets go further.
“We encourage our members to publish photos if they find any particular deals while they are in a shop,” says Susan Syrek, the group's administrator.
“We often find that stores will not necessarily promote deals if they are exclusive to that particular location, so it is up to our community to spread the word.”
The administrators also share screenshots of online sales and where discounts are available to help members of their community find the best deals. The group also collaborates with several brands, which create exclusive offers for Dirham Stretcher’s members.
They also encourage community members to compare prices between supermarkets, as well as between online and physical prices.
“In previous years, we created a cheat sheet that lists online grocery or supermarket shops. It also lists the type of products they sell, the minimum order for delivery and any discounts that can be used on top of the sales,” said Selma Abdelhamid, another administrator of Dirham Stretcher.
“This has been helpful for our community to be able to compare prices and introduce our community to shops they may not have heard of before.”
Ms Abdelhamid and Ms Syrek say that food and anything related to its preparation – such as air fryers, pots and pans and ovens – are popular during Ramadan. Other items in demand include dining tables, dinnerware, food processors and other kitchen appliances.
However, they expect more sales to happen online this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This was reflected in the findings of a recent survey by payment processor Network International, which found that UAE residents spent more on grocery shopping online compared with physical supermarkets last year. The payments company also found that the overall average transaction value of an e-commerce basket in the UAE was 40 per cent higher than that of point-of-sale transactions at supermarkets.
“If you do not need anything in particular, you always have the option of taking advantage of Ramadan sales to stock up on canned foods and dried goods as many hypermarkets will be running bundle offers,” says Ms Syrek.
She recommends that people make a list of the items they need and stick to it. There will be a lot of temptation to purchase products because they are on sale but having a list will help you stay within budget, she says.
“Meal plans are also a great idea because they help you to save money by reducing food waste. You can base a meal plan according to items you have found to be on sale and purchase only the items and the amounts you need,” says Ms Abdelhamid.
Shoppers should also check their credit card points, miles or loyalty programmes and try to redeem these during Ramadan, says Ambareen Musa, founder and chief executive of Souqalmal.com.
“I would encourage people to look up the different supermarkets’ websites to check which ones are offering discounts on typical Ramadan shopping lists. Do not hesitate to look up discounts and deals on non-food areas, too,” says Ms Musa.
Consumers should avoid shopping while they are fasting as this can influence the supermarket bill, she says.
Big retailers in the UAE are running Ramadan promotions. Carrefour is offering 70 per cent off on several products in various categories during Ramadan and running special promotions on different days as part of its “one day, one offer” initiative. It will also offer special prices on products from the UAE to support local suppliers and maintain a strong supply chain.
“We have invested more than Dh30 million into our deals and promotions this year to make Ramadan 2021 affordable for everyone,” says Philippe Peguilhan, country manager of Carrefour UAE at Majid Al Futtaim Retail.
He says 2020 was a difficult year and most people are now more focused on buying essentials.
“That is why we have made sure to include essential Ramadan products in our offers and promotions.”
The retailer advises customers to stay up to date with daily offers.
Customers can also save money with Majid Al Futtaim’s Share! app as anything they buy from the group or its malls will grant them points that can be redeemed at Carrefour, says Mr Peguilhan.
"Buying local is also another way to save because our UAE-origin products cost less with no importing fees," he tells The National.
Meanwhile, LuLu says it will freeze prices at the "most affordable point" for its month-long Ramadan promotion. It will also run offers and bundle deals on all products, including groceries, home essentials and gadgets – both in-store and online – until Eid Al Fitr.
LuLu will also offer Ramadan baskets in two sizes. A regular basket costs Dh85 while the larger one costs Dh120. The baskets include groceries such as rice, milk powder, sugar, oil and other essentials and can be bought in LuLu shops and online.
“Ever since the pandemic began, we have seen a huge change in consumer shopping habits that now mainly prioritise buying essential products, which is why we have enhanced our promotions and offers on grocery, fresh food and home and kitchen needs such as appliances,” says V Nandakumar, director of marketing and communications at LuLu Group.
“With most people staying at home for health and safety precautions, gadgets and electronics are also in demand.”
The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the switch from shopping at physical shops to online platforms, with two thirds of UAE consumers making their first online grocery purchase due to stay-at-home measures last year, according to the Visa CEMEA Impact Tracker.
Digital grocery marketplace platforms such as Instashop, Kibsons, elGrocer and Talabat now account for a big chunk of grocery sales volumes in the UAE.
Online retailer Kibsons is offering a 20 per cent discount on all deliveries of fruit, vegetables and meat. The offer began on Aril 6 and ends on Tuesday next week.
“When shopping on Kibsons.com, customers have the opportunity to purchase a bulk-buy bonus. This allows you to earn free bonus credit when you buy a package to top up your wallet,” says Halima Jumani, director of Kibsons’ online home delivery service.
Shoppers can make additional money savings by buying products from Kibsons’ imperfect range section, “where the taste is still as fresh but the items do not look as pretty”, says Ms Jumani.
Grocery marketplace platform elGrocer lists offers from its hypermarket, supermarket and specialty partner shops. It uses data to rank popular Ramadan items for more convenient shopping.
“We make offers easily accessible to customers as the first category they see on the app and provide banners that make them even clearer,” said Nader Amiri, founder of elGrocer.
“On top of that, we offer exclusive promo code deals when customers purchase certain brands. We do this on a weekly basis with new codes.”
Mr Amiri says elGrocer will offer competitions on social media, giving customers the chance to win vouchers to spend on the app. Shoppers can also register for the app’s push notifications and emails to receive weekly promotional codes.
“Our No 1 tip is not to overstock to avoid wastage and a big cash outlay upfront. There will be great offers for more than six weeks, so buy what you need and replenish if or when you run out, especially on fresh or shorter shelf-life items,” says Mr Amiri.
Meanwhile, online shopping platform Noon.com announced that its grocery delivery service’s Ramadan sale will run from April 1 to May 12, with up to 75 per cent off groceries and household essentials. It will also hold 10-day flash sales and 12-hour daily surprise sales.