x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Grocery shoppers prepare to fast and feast

Commercialism surrounding the holy month raises concerns that the spirit of holiday is being lost, but some supermarkets are encouraging charity.

Nawal, left, and Fattah Ahmed shop before Ramadan at Lulu Hypermarket in Abu Dhabi's Al Wahda Mall.
Nawal, left, and Fattah Ahmed shop before Ramadan at Lulu Hypermarket in Abu Dhabi's Al Wahda Mall.

Shoppers are flocking to supermarkets across the country in preparation for 30 days of fasting and feasting during Ramadan. The rush will intensify over the next three days, peaking on Sunday, the day before fasting begins, according to David Berrick, the retail general manager of Abela Supermarkets. "The really big purchases start the day before Ramadan," he said. "It's the single biggest shopping day of the year."

Fruit and dates, eaten to break fast at the iftar meal, were the most popular items, said Mr Berrick. Customers are also taking advantage of Ramadan offers, including two-for-one deals, free gifts and discounts on bulk items. Food outlets across the country are battling for business, with stores decked with signs advertising special promotions. "It's naturally a very, very busy time," said a spokesman for Lulu supermarkets. "If you go into the shops, you can really feel Ramadan."

In supermarkets yesterday, the big rush appeared to have already started, with shoppers jostling for space in the aisles at Lulu Hypermarket in Al Wahda Mall, which has shipped in 80 varieties of dates to mark the occasion. The company's sales rise by as much as one-fifth in the run up to Ramadan. "We are shopping to prepare for Ramadan, we shop before and we shop all the way through," said Um Rashid al Fahim as she filled two trolleys with cakes, biscuits and sweets at the checkout.

Mohammed Abdul Rahman, 29, an Emirati who works with Dubai police, said he was shopping for the basics for Ramadan and his mother would buy more. "We buy a lot of dates, fruits and different kinds of bread," he said. "We are looking forward to the holy month and all are preparing for it." Hamida Jaffer, who was at the Century Mall in Dubai with her children, said the focus would be on eating healthy food while breaking the fast.

"We will buy a lot of fruit juices, yoghurt, nuts and traditional sweets," she said. "Of course, we will buy a lot of meat for the iftar preparations." Another shopper, Zaigam Hyder, said: "We make sure there is enough food for us and guests who will come home to break the fast. Traditional food stuff like hummus, kuboos [bread] and a lot of fruits and drinks will be stacked." The Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group said it expected gold sales to rise by as much as a 20 per cent in the lead up to Eid al Fitr, as people bought gifts for the celebrations.

However, the growing commercialism surrounding the month has led to concerns that Ramadan is losing touch with its spirit of charity and giving. A few supermarket promotions are centred on zakat, or charitable donations. Carrefour is running a Ramadan Kareem promotion until Sept 3, which gives part of the price paid on a range of foods to the Red Crescent Authority. For every large pack of Pampers bought at Lulu supermarkets and hypermarkets, two tetanus vaccines will be given to children in need.

"Some people are just thinking about food, but we must remember about charity and those who have less money," said Mrs Fahim. "Charity is very important and we must do it every day during Ramadan. "It's a real problem that food has become so expensive; some people just can't afford to shop as much." The Ministry of Economy signed an agreement with many of the country's major supermarkets this year to reduce the prices of essential food items over the month.

Government inspectors will tour shops to ensure they are adhering to the agreement. The Emirates Co-operative Society has reduced the price of 60 basic items at various branches during Ramadan, and Etihad Airways announced yesterday it would reduce the price of many airfares. The promotion, which runs from Sept 1 to Nov 8, will see flights to London, Bangkok and Cairo cut by up to 50 per cent. @email:lmorris@thenational.ae