The mystery of rising Ramadan food prices in the UAE

Take our poll: Fruit and vegetable prices are rising, statisticians say, but retailers refute claims of hiking prices.

Al Ward Trading fruit and vegetable shop in the Tourist Club area. Its manager, Ashraf Ali, says there was a 20 per cent rise in prices in the first two days of Ramadan. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Fruit and vegetable prices are rising during Ramadan, statisticians say. Oh, no they're not, retailers say - apart from most of the big retailers, who have nothing to say.

Experts at Scad, the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (Scad), say vegetable prices are up 14.4 per cent and fruit by 11.4 per cent since the beginning of the holy month.

"There is a trend starting, especially during Ramadan, some of the food groups have increased too much," said Hanan Al Mazouqi of Scad.

Spinneys, Abela, Lulu and Waitrose all refused to comment on Scad's findings, but the general manager of the Co-op Abu Dhabi was keen to defend his prices.

"Every Ramadan it is the same story and people think we are hiking the price," said Georges Mojica. "The prices are not increasing.

"We have enough competition in Abu Dhabi as it is. If I was crazy enough to increase my prices customers would simply go somewhere else."

Mr Mojica said the Co-op made a loss on Ramadan baskets that feed a family for a week. They sell for either Dh99 or Dh170, but "actually cost us 20 to 30 per cent more than that".

"We are monitoring the price among ourselves regularly on a weekly basis and we do not have any agreement to increase prices. We have met the Ministry of Economy and they have been very active in the process."

Of the Scad figures, Mr Mojica said: "I don't know what kind of products they are targeting. This is probably part of a campaign to make sure the retailers are being monitored and controlled."

Nevertheless, Scad stood by its figures and said the increases were greater than necessary. "Further study is needed over why there is such an increase in Ramadan, it would require specialist studies for Ramadan items," said Mr Al Mazouqi.

Richard Adams, a retail consultant at Acuity Middle East, questioned the reliability of the statistics.

"From the published data I am aware of, I do not believe that we can say that there has been a significant spike in food prices over this Ramadan period," he said.

"Week-on-week changes in prices are more reflective of sampling technique and sample composition. It is difficult to draw conclusions over such a limited time."

He said that, in general, supermarkets and shops were not intentionally out to exploit customers and noted that countries across the world were experiencing significant food price inflation.

Kerala, according to one retailer, appears to be an exception. Suresh Nallad, a manager at Fatima's grocery in the Tourist Club area, said the franchise bought fruits and vegetables locally at the Mina market and also imported them from Kerala. Prices in Kerala had remained constant, but had risen in the UAE.

"In Ramadan fruits and vegetables go up in price, so we have to follow the market," he shrugged. "But we sell more too."

Ashraf Ali, who manages Al Ward Trading, another small fruit and vegetable shop in the area, said there had been a 20 per cent rise in prices during the first two days of Ramadan but since then prices had remained constant. Al Ward also buys most of its produce from Mina market.

His customers, however, seem not to have noticed.

Asif Parkar and Lawrence Crasto, who live in a building near by, said local shops were more expensive than the market, but they had not noticed a particular rise in Ramadan. Mr Crasto said higher prices were "worth the convenience" of shopping at a nearby store.

His friend Mr Parkar said: "And parking is always a problem in Abu Dhabi, especially in Ramadan. It's so much easier just walking down the road and buying it all here. So it's normal for a shop in an area like this to have higher prices."

Ministry of Economy officials inspected market stalls across the emirate this month, and told many to reduce their prices during Ramadan.

The move was designed to ensure customers get a fair deal throughout the holy month.