Breadlosers? Bakers shrug off blame [Archives:2007/1023/Business & Economy]

February 8 2007

Saddam Al-Ashmori
Yemeni markets have witnessed huge price hikes as prices rise day after day, especially for consumer commodities like flour. In recent months, this has pushed bakers to reduce the size of bread loaves.

Many customers are puzzled about the reasons behind the shrinking loaves. Previously, two loaves might have been enough to make one feel full, but now, even 10 loaves might not suffice for that same person.

However, for the most part, consumers are accepting the shrinkage silently, although they still wonder if loaves will return to their previous size. Further, they wonder what's responsible – businessmen's greed or bakers' deceit?

“Citizens are the only victims. It's businessmen's greediness that makes flour prices increase. Further, there's no control over bakeries,” family breadwinner Ali Mohammed Al-Tawili said.

“It's a burden on us to buy at this price. To save money, I might buy an oven and bake bread at home,” he added.

He maintains that his large family requires 50 loaves for just one meal at a cost of YR 500 – and it still isn't enough. “That's only for one meal, so what about three meals a day?” he complained.

When asked about the French baguette, Al-Tawili replied that the bread's name doesn't matter as long as it makes one full, alleging that it doesn't do anything to alleviate one's hunger because it can be eaten in two bites.

“Those parties in control are liars and cheaters and they don't perform their jobs as they should. Where are the employees of the Trade and Supply Ministry and the General Authority for Specifications, Standards and Quality Control?” he demanded.

Concluding his thoughts, Al-Tawili said, “In the long run, citizens must buy and eat in order to live, but bakers say, 'If you don't buy, others will.'”

For his part, grocer Abdulkhaliq Al-Kindi says the situation now has become different, and when comparing between past and current loaves, there's a big difference, as previous ones were three times larger than the new ones.

Al-Kindi attributes this to instability of market prices, but declares that loaves are necessary. He sometimes eats 10 pieces, but doesn't feel satisfied, so he advises citizens to bake bread at home.

“When people ask us about the size of the loaves, we tell them that we aren't bakers; rather, distributors deliver them to us as they are and say, 'If people don't want to buy them, return them to us,'” Al-Kindi adds.

He alleges that there's no government control at all and he doesn't know when concerned parties will wake up.

Another consumer, Mohammed Obeed, shares the same opinion, saying, “The situation has become strange now and citizens are the only victims. Businessmen raised prices and bakers found it an opportunity to minimize loaf size. It's half the size of the previous loaf.”

Obeed further notes that the French baguette size still satisfies; however, those bakeries producing such bread are scarce.

“I'll buy at any price, although I need 30 loaves to make me feel full. I think it's better for citizens to bake bread at home,” he added.

He also claims that concerned parties are partners in what's happening while the government is supposed to regulate flour prices and observe both bakers and businessmen.

Grocer Abdu Al-Huwaidi agrees, saying, “I think the increased flour prices led bakers to reduce the size of loaves. People may resort to baking bread at home because concerned authorities' control is absent.”

Baker Abdulkarim Al-Dhaifi says lack of conscience and honesty causes some bakers to reduce loaf sizes and further attributes the small size to such lack of control “Citizens will bake bread at home because even more than 50 loaves won't suffice a small family. The government should observe markets and bakeries,” he said.

“Under these conditions prevalent in Yemen, there's nothing other than the conscience as the only control for some bakers. People can resort to French baguettes as an alternative,” Al-Dhaifi suggested.

Concerned authorities also gave their opinion on the recent events. Adnan Al-Aghbari, specifications administration manager at the Specification Authority, noted, “The authority continuously sets controls, performs inspections and arrests violators.

“Due to the instability of prices, it's natural for bakers to reduce bread weight under the pretext of high prices; thus, the authority can't do anything as long as prices are unstable,” he maintained.

“If prices are stable, we conduct our role of arresting violators and referring them to prosecution to investigate their cases. They later pay the required sum and pledge not to commit the violation again,” Al-Aghbari explained.

He concluded, “We can't do anything unless prices come down again.”

One baker clarified the matter, saying, “It's natural to reduce loaf weight, especially after the rise in prices for essential commodities. For example, a 50-kilogram bag of flour is now YR 3,500 instead of YR 2,300, a difference of YR 1,200 and this costs us a lot.”

He added, “We have three choices: either raise prices to YR 20, which is unaccepted by consumers, reduce the bread weight, which is feasible, or close our shops.

“It's a pity that the press is focusing on the bakers because they all know we don't reduce the weight or increase prices when the markets are stable – businessmen are responsible for that. I own a bakery and I buy flour at a high price. Further, I must pay for water, electricity, wages and rent,” he maintained.

“Via your newspaper, we'd like to say that we aren't responsible for the reduced weight of loaves because we don't have farms or mills. We buy flour from businessmen and concerned authorities know this and appreciate our situation,” the baker declared.