Grocers say no need for modernisation


By Megan Detrie

The capital’s food standards authority appears to have its work cut out if it is to convince the owners of all 1,300 small groceries of the need to modernise their shops.

Abu Dhabi GrocersThe plans, part of the Emirate’s Vision 2030, was announced at the weekend, and includes a complete redesign and renovation of all groceries to bring them up to a new code.

“We are looking at new groceries and implementing best practices, standards and trying to use technology as much as we can, while also not losing all the benefits grocery stores offer now,” said Mohamed al Reyaysa, the communications director of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA).

But the initial reaction from the owners of small and medium-sized groceries has been sceptical.

Shajahan A, the supervisor at Fatima Supermarket on Airport Road, said shoppers were happy with existing stores. His shop does not deliver and handles all its accounts with pen and paper.

“There’s no need to improve things,” he said. “It’s good enough already.”

Khalid D, who runs Al Mashoor Foodstuff in Bateen, said there was nothing he would change about his small cornershop.

“I don’t want any more space, and computers would just slow us down,” he said.

But the authority disagrees, and wants to bring all shops, no matter how content, or tiny, in line with international standards.

Mr al Reyaysa said that while some shops “position themselves for 2011” others “are the same as they were 20 years ago”.

The hope, he said, is to improve the quality of service, as well as the safety of consumers.

Despite strict guidelines, stores in the city continue to break them. Cleaning detergents and bleach are shelved next to edible goods, food past its expiration dates remains on shelves, and perishables are stored at inappropriate temperatures.

According to Mr al Reyaysa, the plan will encourage new technology to help workers monitor the expiration and freshness of food.

The effort follows a study that found that residents spend Dh1billion a year at small groceries, almost a third of the total amount of all spending on food and beverages.

It found they stayed open for an average of 16 hours a day, and served about 150 customers from all backgrounds.

Most stores are located in residential and work areas, and appealed to customers because of their proximity, delivery services, and credit options.

According to Sidik Pem, who runs Al Karama Flower Grocery, in Karama, about 70 per cent of his business is deliveries.

With two phone lines, and a paper and pen book-keeping system, Mr Pem insists it would be too expensive to computerise his operation. “I’m happy enough with how things are,” he said.

But ADFCA wants to persuade grocers that the new standards are not just for customers’ benefit.

“Owners and operators will have better and more lucrative business opportunities,” said Rashed Mohamed al Shariqi, its director general.

The authority plans to set up model stores in the coming months to illustrate the new look to shop owners and the general public, and Mr al Reyaysa insisted they will work closely with shopkeepers in implementing the plan.