Food will again be offered at a discount during Ramadan as officials clamp down on unfair price increases ahead of the holy month. Since 2006, the Ministry of Economy has worked with supermarkets to offer bundles of essential items at low or at cost prices. "We've been doing this because at Ramadan we see normal prices increase," said Hashim Saeed al Nuaimi, the manager of consumer protection at the ministry.
This year, as many families face reduced wages and layoffs brought on by the global financial downturn, the assistance could prove particularly timely. "The economic crisis has affected consumers' pay and we want everybody to be able to afford the majority of food items during Ramadan," said Mr al Nuaimi. The details are still under negotiation, but Mr al Nuaimi said the major supermarket chains had agreed to offer reductions on hundreds of items.
Last year, most sold Ramadan boxes that included staples such as flour, milk, oil, rice, sugar, dates and water at lower prices. Mr al Nuaimi said the bundles would be priced at around Dh150 (US$40). "Five people in one family can use this for a week," he said. "We will make sure they have a small price, a good price for the consumer." Ramadan is expected to begin on August 21. Managers at supermarkets did not seem worried that the discounts would damage their business.
"It's a short-term dropping of prices so it will not really harm business, but I think it will encourage people to spend more, which is a healthy sign for our survival," said Abraham George, a store manager at Baniyas Co-operative Society supermarket in Abu Dhabi. Iftars are lavish affairs so, despite the fasting, food purchases during Ramadan usually increase for most families. However, for the country's poorest residents, the celebrations can bring an additional financial burden.
As Ramadan is traditionally a time of generosity, public figures frequently hold public iftars to feed the less fortunate. Last year, the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Charity Foundation delivered food to 44,000 needy families, distributing more than 15,000 tonnes of food through 26 centres across the country. Organisers said more than 300,000 people benefited. firstname.lastname@example.org * with files from Reuters