With the cost of living rising in Qatar, consumers are always on the lookout for lower prices without compromising on quality, especially when it comes to food. Under the Central Market’s awnings, one immediately notes the hustle and bustle of a vibrant place that offers a huge variety of fresh vegetables and fruits sourced from local farms, as well as imported from different parts of the world.
Wholesale auctions at the Central Market is closely monitored by the consumer protection department of the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, so vendors cannot indulge in price gouging or selling sub-standard produce. Also, some fruits or vegetables may not be available as production at farms in Qatar comes down drastically from May till August/September due to the weather factor.
Local favourites like cucumbers and sweet melons sit alongside imported tomatoes and oranges to meet local demand. People often visit the Central Market to buy in bulk, even if they do not have a large family to feed, as the price difference can be huge compared to what can be found in retail shops and large supermarkets.
In giant food retail stores, tasteful displays of fresh produce, spotless aisles and usually smiling assistants conspire to make supermarket shopping a very pleasant experience, but the fact that much better bargains can be found at the Central Market has evidently proved a more attractive proposition for many families.
During a recent visit to the Central Market, bq found that prices of fresh fruits and vegetables were a great deal lower than the supposedly ‘discounted’ prices offered by local shopkeepers and supermarket chains. Indeed, the price differential was huge, ranging from 40 to 100 percent in some cases.
The daily arrival of fresh vegetables from the local market plays a major role in this cost saving, as does the fact that competition is fierce between individual traders. This means that prices are not as uniform and such competition ensures a range of different prices for the same item. This is in stark contrast to supermarkets, where more rigid price structures reign. Rakib Hasan, a retailer at the Central Market, told bq: “Prices are likely to vary according to size, quality and the country of origin, and also the price ranges fluctuate according to seasonal patterns and when supply is not linked to demand.”
It is this price variation which most certainly appeals to buyers. Mohammad Hassmi said: “I try to visit the wholesale market regularly to buy fresh vegetables in bulk. The prices are not fixed here as they are in the supermarket, so I can haggle for the best price. It helps me to keep my budget under control.”
At the market, a 40-kg bag of Indian red onions was available at QR 20 (QR 2 per kg), and a 15-kg bag sourced from Pakistan was being sold at QR 22 (QR 1.66 per kg). Compare this to a leading hypermarket in Doha where these same onions are sold for QR 2.50 and QR 3 per kg respectively, a difference of of 25 and 87 percent.
The price of a 7-kg basket of potatoes from Lebanon was noted at QR 15 (QR 2.14 per kg), but retailed at the same hypermarket for QR 11.75 for a 3-kg bag (QR 3.90 per kg), a whopping 80 percent higher than the wholesale price. Similarly, a box of Jordanian cucumbers weighing 8 kg was being sold for QR 38 (QR 4.75 per kg) and QR 7 per kg at the hypermarket, a price difference of almost 50 percent.
The Central Market was flooded with watermelons being sold at a price range of QR 8-QR 10 for 7-8 kg, while similar sizes cost QR 2.50-3 per kg in the retail market. An 8-kg box of mangoes from Pakistan was QR 43 (QR 4.3 per kg) at the market, while they were selling for QR 14 per kg at the hypermarket, almost three times higher than the wholesale price. And, the savings did not stop there. Bananas from the Philippines weighing 13 kg were priced at QR 50 (QR 3.8 per kg) at the Central Market but were going for QR 5.50 per kg at retail outlets, yet another significant saving of 44 percent.
In the case of staples such as garlic, the price of an 8-kg box sourced from China was QR 24 (QR 3 per kg) at the Central Market, but sold at QR 4.50 per kg at a hypermarket., which would set one back an additional 50 percent. A kg of bell peppers from Jordan was being sold at QR 5.50 at retail shops, yet only QR 18 for a 5-kg bag (QR 3.60 per kg) at the market.
Bundles of fresh produce
So, what happens to the unsold vegetables at the Central Market? Veteran vendor Harunoor Rashid responded: “Usually, the demand for fresh fruit and vegetables is so high, there are none remaining, and if anything does remain, we sell it at throwaway prices.”
Interestingly, despite the soaring temperatures and a total lack of air-conditioning, a lot of housewives were seen flocking to the market, the lure of a bargain making it worth the discomfort. A housewife guiding a porter in the market to handpick a variety of vegetables said: ““I enjoy coming here to buy fresh vegetables as I prefer local produce sourced from farms, compared to produce that is imported. I do not know the origins of the imported food.”
Indian national Shan said: “I do not have a big family but I still come here to buy in bulk as what you get here is not only cheaper but also fresher.”
However, retail outlets should not get a bad name due to their comparatively higher prices. Their overheads can be huge, especially when one takes into account factors like staff salaries and rentals. Import costs can also be prohibitive in many cases, which is passed on to the customer.
During the winter months, consumers also can make purchases at twice-a-week open markets for local produce, which are organised by the Ministry of Environment, including at far-flung locations like Al Khor and Umm Salal.
These days, consumers in the hunt for bargains are now spoilt for choice.
Photo credits: Khadiza Begum