x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Farm shops take on the big supermarkets

Three farmers' shops are tempting Abu Dhabi consumers away from the big supermarkets with fresh local produce - and at lower prices.

Mohamed Tajul, 23, restocks vegetables at the Farmer's Services Centre, an outlet for farmer's produce, which opened two weeks ago on Muroor Rd. in Abu Dhabi.
Mohamed Tajul, 23, restocks vegetables at the Farmer's Services Centre, an outlet for farmer's produce, which opened two weeks ago on Muroor Rd. in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Three farmers' shops are tempting Abu Dhabi consumers away from the big supermarkets with fresh local produce - and at lower prices.

The Farmers' Services Centre, which works to make farming more sustainable, is behind the shops in Liwa and Sila, and on Muroor Road near 29th Street in the capital.

They are part of its strategy to put more good, locally grown food on consumers' plates. "Yesterday I was eating cherry tomato on the vine," said Christopher Hirst, the FSC's chief officer. "It's equal to anything bought in the supermarket." With so many expatriates, he said, the decision about which food to buy was often "very emotional". But with two outlets already operating in Mina and Delma Island and plans for 23 by the end of the year, the FSC is confident it can win over consumers.

Only slightly larger than other corner groceries, the FSC outlets sell locally produced dairy products, along with dry goods and basic convenience-store items. The shop on Muroor also has an organic section.

The FSC sells 450g boxes of cherry tomatoes for Dh2, against Dh10, typically, for an imported box. A kilo of cucumbers is Dh2.50; the shop next door sells them imported from Egypt at Dh7 a kilo. At Carrefour, UAE cucumbers were priced at Dh6.95 a kilo.

Baseem Nagib, from Syria, lives nearby. He still goes to Carrefour for his big household shop but stops at the FSC outlet for fruit and vegetables.

Realistic about how much produce the FSC can provide, each store also has contracts with wholesalers for out-of-season items.

The centre manages to provide a decent variety from up to 300 Al Gharbia farms with which it works, from tomatoes and cucumbers to broccoli, beetroot, gourds and oranges. Each day it buys about 22 tonnes of fresh produce from Al Gharbia.

It has long-term contracts with some farmers, and spot-buying with others, with prices set weekly according to the market.

“Where there are concerns, the team will inform the procurement arm, and we won’t buy from that farm until they change their practices,” said Mr Hirst.

The shops were set up 25 years ago by Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the UAE. When the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority took responsibility for agriculture in 2009 it closed many of the shops, and they are now being renovated. Already, the Muroor branch has doubled its turnover.

They are unlikely to replace the capital’s big supermarkets, but in rural areas such as Sila the shops serve a much less well-provided market.

And their clientele is diverse. “Men drop in and get a single vegetable, while families will come in to buy in bulk,” said Mr Hirst.

Baldar, a Pakistani, was one such solitary shopper on Tuesday. “I’ve been coming often,” he said, buying a few tomatoes and an onion. “It’s less expensive and fresher.”

mdetrie@thenational.ae