x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Food price increases force bakers to cut corners

Experts say the retail price ceiling and rising costs will compromise quality of goods as businesses shift to cheaper ingredients.

Some bakers will be tempted to reduce the quality or size of their bread, says Samir Malkawe of Al Corniche bakeries.
Some bakers will be tempted to reduce the quality or size of their bread, says Samir Malkawe of Al Corniche bakeries.

ABU DHABI // Bread may contain a little less flour and a lot more air as bakers try to find a way round a retail price ceiling and rising costs.

Quality will be compromised as businesses shift to cheaper ingredients unless the Ministry of Economy allows them to raise their prices, bakeries and food experts say.

"Bakers will start to blow up their bread like balloons with more chemicals to give it more volume and more taste," said Sven Mostegl, a food and catering consultant.

"The problem is that in the end they will be cheating the customer. It is a bad story."

Global prices of food staples such as sugar, wheat flour and cooking oils are at record highs because of bad weather, growing demand and political instability in some producing countries.

That means some bakers may manipulate their recipes to compensate. Gluten, a natural protein found in wheat, can give bread elasticity and stability as it rises. Increasing the proportion can give a loaf more volume and weight for less money.

Customers would unwittingly be paying for less bread, while ministry officials would not be able to see the difference during routine checks of product prices and sizes.

"Some bakeries will use cheaper materials and decrease quality, or reduce the size of their bread," said Samir Malkawe, marketing manager for Al Corniche Automotive Bakeries & Markets in Abu Dhabi. "Bread is entering each home, from the highest to the guy cleaning the street. It is vital. The Government should not force bakeries to do this."

The bakery's invoices from its wholesale food supplier in Abu Dhabi showed that a monthly bill for ingredients including seeds, cinnamon, almond, spices and olive slices jumped by a third to about Dh1,200 in two months.

Officials at Khushi Trading Co in Dubai, a leading importer of sugars and spices, said the prices of sugar had risen by about a quarter in the past six months.

Mohammed Hutait, owner of the Lebanon Flower Bakery in Abu Dhabi, said the price of unsalted butter had risen 30 per cent, and the price of 50kg of sugar had risen to Dh170 from less than Dh100.

On some items, including bread, the bakery is just breaking even, he said. But the business remains profitable overall and he will not consider changing baking formulas.

"Many bakeries are being forced to make changes in the kitchen, but for us it is very simple — our customers would notice," he said. "If you play with the formula, you are playing with the quality. But many other bakeries will still do what they can because they feel they have no option."

Mr Hutait and Mr Malkawe said bakeries have been prodding the Ministry of Economy to allow an increase in bread prices.

But the rise in production costs is not enough to warrant an increase in prices at the consumer level, said Dr Hashim al Nuaimi, director general of the ministry's consumer protection department.

The ministry will do everything it can to ensure quality is not compromised as a result of the cap on retail prices, Mr al Nuaimi said.

"To put more water or something like this than flour is illegal, and if I find any claims that this is the case, I would make time and effort to give them a penalty," he said.