The holiday season means something different for businesses than it does for everyone else. It still represents love, generosity and sentimental sharing. On their part, consumers are much more inclined to open up their pocketbooks during the holidays. Unlike previous holidays, the current festive season seems to be stable for many households as the price of major food items was moderate, reports SAMSON BERHANE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
Every holiday, Abebech Yirga never misses the change to visit Semien Sholla, a market place known for the large number of chickens for sale, as it is two kilometres away from her home.
“The chicken market is better than what we feared,” Abebech said. “The price increase has only been moderate.”
Located in Gulele District, the Semien Sholla market was conceived decades ago. It has developed its own traditions since then.
With crunch time in the Easter shopping season approaching, retailers in Semien Sholla were fully supplied, but so too were places like Sholla, another marketplace with an identical name, which is located at Megenagna, where households look for alternatives.
For Easter, doro wet, a traditional chicken stew, it is the top choice for most households in Addis Abeba. Chicken, butter, eggs and onions are the (very necessary) ingredients to cook the stew.
This year, consumers such as Abebech are likely to find chickens and eggs at better prices than during previous holidays.
“If you don’t know the prices yet, you may be in for a surprise,” said Abebech, who bought chickens for 200 Br. “Last Christmas, I spent more than 300 Br, only a week before the holiday.”
The five members of Abebech’s family cook two chickens every holiday.
“I expected the price to go as high as 400 Br,” Abebech added. “I see the same trend in the price of eggs as well.”
Eggs cost three birr each around Semien Sholla, whereas it reached as high as 3.50 Br in kiosks situated in different parts of the city.
“The supply has somehow improved, which has helped the price to stabilise,” said Reta Tolossa, a chicken retailer around Semien Sholla. “A supply hike following two months of fasting is clear.”
However, there were some observed supply gaps in some markets such as Abuare, near the National Palace, until last Thursday.
“Unlike other holidays, the retailers have not shown up yet,” said Genet Meshesha, a mother of two. “We are looking for alternative marketplaces.”
Harar, Gojjam, Arbaminch and Jimma are major cities from which chickens and eggs are sourced.
Butter is another important ingredient that most households, including Abebech’s, buys during holidays.
Butter, which is usually clarified and spiced in the house, is another essential ingredient of doro wet.
On Tuesday, Abebech went to Qibe Tera, the oldest local butter market in Merkato, and spend 220 Br for a kilo of butter.
“The case of butter is the complete reverse of the chicken market,” said Abebech. “The price now is 70 to 80 Br higher than it was last holiday.”
Nonetheless, the rise in price seems moderate to some consumers, such as Martha Gebru, 30.
“The price of butter usually goes up by a significant amount,” she says. “The increase this holiday is smaller than previous holidays.”
Over the past five years, the rise in the price of butter was disproportional. Five years ago, a kilo of butter was less than 100 Br. Then it climbed to 140 Br four years ago, now it has reached over 220 Br.
Abebech and Martha usually buy butter from retailers like Senayit Abayneh.
With over two decades of experience, Senayit works with 12 other retailers in a big shop situated in Qibe Tera.
She attributed the price increase of butter to the surge in illegal traders.
“There are many people who supply butter without any legal identity,” said Senayit. “Many consumers can effortlessly get the butter at their home from them.”
As a result, she, and other retailers have been seeing reduced butter sales during this holiday.
“Last year, a week before the beginning of holiday, I sold 130 to 150 kilos of butter a day,” she said. “Now I did not even manage to sell one-third of this amount.”
She believes that the lack of stringent control contributed a decline in sales.
“Surprisingly, there are people who sell butter in government offices,” Senayit explained.
Gojjam, Sheno and Wollega are areas known for butter production.
Unlike butter, onions, another key ingredient for doro, exhibited a moderate price hike during the current holiday.
Atkilit Tera, the largest vegetable market in Addis, provides vegetables at cheaper prices than other vegetable markets such as Qera. The major reason for the price is due to transportation costs incurred by the traders to bring the goods from the wholesalers, according to most retailers.
In the Atkilit Tera market, the price of onions is between nine Birr and 12 Br for a kilo. This is reasonably low for households like Abebech.
“There was a marginal rise in price of onions, though it is not a dramatic increase as it was in prior holidays,” she said.
This holiday, for most shoppers, the price of food items is reasonable and poised to go even lower as the price of these items continues to fall after the holiday period, setting the stage for further decline in inflation rate.
However, most shoppers’ experiences are not in line with the inflation trends observed over the last few months.
Last month, the food inflation rate recorded at 9.6pc, the highest level since February last year. This has pushed headline inflation beyond the target set by the government, reaching 8.5pc.
Experts projected that the inflation will likely swell in the coming months as well.
“The government is losing control of the inflationary pressure mainly due to low agricultural productivity,” said Naod Mekonnen, an economic and development policy researcher. “The pressure will continue in the coming months as well.”
The same argument is also expressed in a report released by BMI a month ago.
BMI, a think tank, projected that the country would practice a surge in inflation in 2017, due to an increase in food-insecure people and erratic rainfall.
Over the past two months, retail prices of goods and services has shown a hike across the country, mainly driven by higher food and non-alcoholic beverage costs.
Although the inflation is projected to swell in the coming months, for now, it seems less stressing for consumers in their holiday spending.
“I can say the market is stable now,” says Meswaet Tsige, a mother of two, who lives along Yohannes street, around four kilometres away from Atkilit Tera.
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