Christmas Shopping: Consumers’ Boon, Retailers’ Bane

As holidays approach, members of the family become eager handing out wish lists of presents and more importantly traditional Ethiopian delicacies they wish to be prepared by the homemaker. Granted holidays bring joy and happiness, but shopping during such festivals is never easy on the pockets. This year, to the surprise of many, the market was reasonably stable with only slight price increments, despite the high food inflation rate. For consumers it is indeed a reason to rejoice, but retailers have mixed feelings about it, writes SAMSON BERHANE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Going out holiday shopping at Semien Shola Gebeya, along Dejazmach Haileselassie Street, hadn’t crossed Rediet Mekonnen’s mind until her son and husband rattled off a Christmas list over a meal, a week before the holiday.

The list included many dishes which would require beef and vegetables, but her family’s special request was for Doro wot (chicken stew). For this delicacy, she needed onion, butter and chicken among other ingredients.

Her latest holiday shopping experience, nonetheless, was not short of surprises.

“To my astonishment, the price of most food items is quite reasonable, although beyond my holiday budget,” said Rediet, who paid 70 Br more than her 250 Br budget to buy chicken.

As Ethiopians buckle up to celebrate Christmas, two weeks after the rest of the world did, many households, including Rediet’s, consider the three days before the festival as the best time for shopping, especially for food items.

Although all holiday seasons bring joy and pleasure, many locals value Christmas more, referring to it as the mother of all holidays. It becomes apparent then that families are likely to spend more. The same applies to businesses who stock up all necessary products ready for consumption.

As shoppers begin their spree in many markets of the Addis, home to 3.4 million people, the sight was overwhelming. With many rushing to get their last-minute shopping done, some were feeling the burden of seasonal expenses, others exhausted, while homemakers such as Yeshi Taye rejoiced.

“The market is doing pretty good this holiday,” said Yeshi, a mother of 10 who was shopping for various food items for four hours in Merkato and Shola Gebeya. “The prices of butter, eggs, vegetables, red pepper powder and onions have not shown much increase.”

She bought these items from retailers, like Bilal Seyed, who was preparing his seven-year-old shop in Semien Shola for a week to serve his customers, contacting farmers and intermediaries to buy chicken and eggs.

Suppliers like him working around Shola and other parts of the city get chicken from various parts of the country, mainly from Harer, Gojjam, Arbaminch and Jimma.

He sells an egg for 3.50 Br- similar to the price during the Ethiopian New Year holiday, whereas a chicken would set consumers back between 220 Br and 430 Br at his 16sqm shop.

“We have slightly increased chicken prices owing to the escalation in the cost of fodders,” Bilal explains the reason behind the swell in price. “Yet, this holiday, the prices, the supply as well as the demand are better.”

Not everyone seems to agree with Bilal’s view.

Anyone, who passes through the city’s largest traditional butter market, commonly known as Qibe Tera, a part of Merkato, can easily notice the fading hustle and bustle of the market.

Two dozen retailers working at Qibe Tera are not enjoying the festive season this year, as the number of customers visiting their shops is dwindling. The crowd that once overwhelmed the market has reduced to only a few people here and there.

For a traditional butter retailer working in the area for over two decades, Alemayehu Tabor, a decrease in the number of shoppers does not come as a surprise as it has been the scene for quite some time now.

“Had the shop’s rent not been fair, I would have quit working as a butter retailer long ago,” Alemayehu, who was selling a kilo of butter for 180 Br and 220 Br- similar to the price he charged in the past three holidays.

The decline in the number of customers in the area is linked to the popularity of the informal butter market, which is becoming the first-choice of busy families and those who prefer to get the product quickly.

For a large portion of the city’s residents and communities living in other parts of the country, butter is an essential ingredient in traditional Ethiopian recipes. In Ethiopia, butter, estimated to have 65pc fat, is made from yoghurt.

Zewdu Muluye and his family started selling the most extensively consumed food items in Ethiopia almost four decades ago during the Dergue regime, around Qibe Tera.

“It used to be one of the most profitable markets in Merkato, as opposed to the trend since the rise in the informal one,” he said. “It is so unfortunate that the city’s officials choose to remain silent, even though we pay tax and other commitments regularly unlike the illegal vendors.”

On the same day when retailers in Qibe Tera were struggling with one of their worst holiday sales, stores in Atkilt Tera, the biggest open vegetable market in Addis, was flooded with consumers like Rediet, who came to buy onions.

A kilo of onions was sold for 13 Br to 15 Br-  almost similar compared to the price last year as well as during the past three holidays.

“I believe the price is fair, unlike other times when it soars as the holidays approach,” said Rediet, who bought six kilos of onions to make her family’s favourite, Doro Wot.

Like the onion market, a similar trend was also observed in one of the capital’s biggest cattle market, Shegole, where cattle were sold between 7,000 Br and 35,000 Br depending on their origin and weight.

Being one of the city’s four largest cattle markets, Shegole, in the Gulele District, holds over 1,000 oxen from various regions, largely from Jimma, Harer, Bedelle, Debre Berhan and their surrounding area.

Nonetheless, despite the stable prices of oxen, consumers who used to flood the market before were barely noticeable, affecting the lives of retailers, such as Elias Delil- who had travelled across cities to sell his cattle in Addis.

The steady prices of onions, chicken, butter as well as cattle is a welcome sign as the food inflation showed a slight decline from 18.4pc to 17.1pc in the past month, just after reaching a five-year high owing to the recent devaluation of Birr aimed at reducing imports and promote exports.

Published on Jan 06,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 923]



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