x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dramatic drop in food prices

A year ago the cost of many staples found in shopping baskets were rising rapidly: now they appear to be decreasing.

Most items have dropped in price or remained stable since March.
Most items have dropped in price or remained stable since March.

ABU DHABI // The prices of almost all staple food items in the capital's supermarkets have dropped over the past 12 months, leading to cheaper and cheaper shopping baskets. While inflation grew quickly in the capital this time last year, with some items increasing in price by almost 200 per cent, the opposite is true this year.

And while there remains some way to go before food prices drop to their pre-inflation levels, dramatic reductions are evident. In particular, the prices of a number of imported fresh goods have dropped considerably - with tomatoes imported from the Netherlands falling by up to 45 per cent in some supermarkets. The food price survey this week is the seventh conducted by The National since March 2008. It looked at the prices of similar items in the LuLu supermarket in Al Wahda Mall, Carrefour in Marina Mall and the Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society in Abu Dhabi Mall.

The changes are in line with reassurances made by the Ministry of Economy that more supermarket items would become cheaper over the first few months of the year. In the corresponding period last year, the price of red onions imported from India more than doubled in some supermarkets, and remained at a high level for long afterwards. For the first time in a year, onions have become cheaper in all three supermarkets, dropping 45 per cent in the last quarter alone in Carrefour, from Dh2.75 per kg in March to Dh1.50 - a reduction of 23 per cent since July 2008.

At LuLu, they fell 27 per cent since March, and 13 per cent over the year; at the Co-op, they fell 23 per cent in the last quarter and by six per cent in a year. Locally produced fresh goods, especially tomatoes, remain relatively expensive compared with the same period last year. But Dutch tomatoes in Carrefour are now 34 per cent cheaper per kilogram than three months ago, and year on year. A year ago, one kilogram of Dutch tomatoes cost Dh23.50 in LuLu; the same would be only Dh12.95 now, a drop of 45 per cent.

The same product is 21 per cent cheaper in the Co-op than three months ago, but only four per cent less than last year. Bananas from the Philippines are the only fresh imported goods not to have significantly changed price since July 2008. Most items, including Arabic bread, milk, rice, sugar and Australian lamb, have dropped in price or remained stable in all supermarkets since March this year. Only items produced in the Middle East, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, have risen in price over the past three months, albeit only nominally. Earlier this year, Dr Hashim al Neaimi, the head of the consumer protection department with the Ministry of Economy, said the ministry was liaising with supermarket chains to ensure that food prices were falling, and thus accurately reflecting international trends.

Inspectors also conduct field tours in stores across the Emirates to check that prices are fair. Having witnessed small reductions in price at the start of the year, Dr al Neaimi said greater co-operation between suppliers, vendors and the ministry should ensure "even lower prices in the coming period". Susanna Dias, 24, a Filipina office assistant, said she had noticed changes in the prices of some products.

"It is a change, but only very small," she said. "I see it, but it is too small to make a big difference. When you are buying tea and these things, it is more expensive, so the money I spend is not different." She estimated that she spent between Dh150 and Dh200 a week on groceries, mostly on fresh food items. Jason Morrissey, a 33-year-old British broker, moved to the UAE at the peak of food inflation last summer. While shopping at Carrefour, he said: "I guess it's only right that everything is falling. Everything seemed really expensive when I moved here. Most things are imported, so it makes sense. rhughes@thenational.ae