Grocery
Image Credit: Pixabay

Dubai: Grocery shopping in the UAE isn’t cheap. If you are used to shopping back home, whether that’s in India, England or America, you will notice that prices are slightly higher here. It can be quite an adjustment.

The first and most important thing to know is that, even though groceries are expensive, buying your food from the supermarket and making your own breakfast, lunch and dinner will likely save you a whole lot of money rather than eating out.

Meal delivery services are huge in this region and almost every office will have someone who orders in for lunch. If you can buy and make your own every day, you are set to meet many financial goals.

It may take a little while to get used to making a major investment in food each week/month rather than spending Dh30-Dh40 every meal on takeout, but you will be better for it.

Dh30


Average cost per every takeout meal

So, where should you shop in order to save money on groceries?

Here’s the short answer

There is no one place in the UAE to buy your groceries for less. However, you have to visit multiple places, since different places will lower prices on different items.

Here is the long answer

In this story, we choose to compare between two main hypermarkets in the UAE:

1. Carrefour

2. Lulu Hypermarket

And for the first time, we explored:

3. Deira Waterfront Market

1. Shopping at the Deira Waterfront Market

Shopping in the Waterfront market was quite the experience. I usually don’t venture too far from home to go buy my groceries. Since I am based in Jumeirah, I wouldn’t drive to Deira to buy groceries. But this experience taught me how much grocery shops in Dubai mark up their prices.

Parking

It’s free, underground and there was plenty of it. I went during the day to avoid the rush hour traffic of the evening, so I was able to shop at my leisure.

What can I find there?

  1. The largest fish market in the region
  2. Local, regional and imported fruit and vegetables
  3. A wide range of meat and poultry
  4. Dry goods and spices
  5. Lulu Hypermarket on the top floor
  6. A plant nursery
  7. Waterfront area to walk

Shopping experience

It’s important for me to mention that I always shop in supermarkets. I do my own thing, and I don’t have to talk to anyone. Buying my items at the Waterfront Market proved challenging for someone who enjoys introverted shopping.

When I arrived, I grabbed myself a large trolley and went up the elevator to the market. What used to be the huge outdoor Deira Fish market is now an indoor, well-lit and air-conditioned spot. The entire section is split up into different areas. I started out with fruits and vegetables.

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What used to be the huge outdoor Deira Fish market is now an indoor, well-lit and air-conditioned spot. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Fruits and Vegetables

You have to brace yourself. The moment you walk into the ‘Fruits and Vegetables’ section, five to six sales men will come up to you to get you to buy their vegetables. I had to be a bit tough and ask for my space. It was slightly nerve-wracking at first being called from different directions, but then you kind of get used to it.

The offering at the Deira Waterfront Market was great. Fruits and vegetables were very fresh, the quality was mostly amazing. Most of the things I bought were delicious, fresh and actually looked like very perfect fruit. I never saw lettuce that was so green and clean.

The downside about shopping at the market is that there are no prices written on the stands. So most of the time, you do have to engage with the salesman so you can buy and most times they will be pushy. The prices were low, but I know they would have been lower had I perhaps not been such ‘an easy target’. I had a nervous “I don’t know what I am doing here” look on my face. The face of someone who actually doesn’t often go grocery shopping and who had to ask how many tomatoes make 1kg. I am sure if my more experienced at grocery shopping mother went, she would have gotten great prices.

Here are the prices:

Vegetables and fruit prices

  • 1kg red onions: Dh4
  • 1kg Green beans: Dh12
  • One head of broccoli: Dh5
  • One yellow pepper: Dh2
  • One orange pepper: Dh2
  • 1kg of potato: Dh4
  • 1kg tomato: Dh4
  • 1kg aubergine: Dh8
  • 1kg of cucumbers: Dh6
  • 1kg of corn: Dh9
  • 1 bunch of spring onion = Dh5
  • 2 bunch of baby spinach AND 1 bunch rocket = Both for Dh5
  • (Any 3 bunch of herbs or leafy greens = Dh5)
  • 1kg carrot= Dh6
  • 1 head of Lettuce = Dh3
  • 1kg of Iranian watermelon =Dh2.50
  • (1 big Watermelon Iranian = Dh17)
  • 1kg yellow lemons= 10Dh
  • 4 Gold Kiwis = Dh17
  • 1 coconut = Dh3
  • Avocado 1kg = Dh14
  • Mango 1kg = Dh15

Eggs and Milk

  • Organic, free range eggs: 1 tray of 30 eggs for Dh30
  • Normal eggs: 30 eggs for Dh25
  • Non Pasteurized Milk: 2l for Dh8
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The fruits and vegetables at Deira Waterfront Market are very fresh and the quality is amazing. Image Credit: File photo

Dry goods

Stepping out of the vegetable section from the back, past the eggs, you will find a dry goods section, which is where the nuts, rice and spices are housed. The spices were wholesale and sold in bulk, so were definitely cheaper than the little quantities that you get at supermarkets.

Rice prices in KG

  • Indian basmati rice 10kgs = Dh52
  • Egyptian rice 5kg = Dh35

Seafood

The fish market at Deira Waterfront was definitely the most popular spot in the entire place. It closes briefly in the afternoon and opens up at 4pm.

I would say the fish market was the least enjoyable experience. The fish looked great, but I couldn’t get further than one quadrant of the entire space. Most workers there were very pushy.

I ended up buying 3kgs of Norwegian salmon, 2kg of seabass and 2kg of jumbo prawns with a few extra tossed in. They will usually throw in a free fish or two (if they are small) when you get your things from the same guy.

I sat and waited while it was cleaned and took it home in a box with ice. I ended up spending Dh600 for everything including the cleaning, ice and box.

After getting home, we realised that the shrimp wasn’t fresh. Apparently it curled inward and didn’t hold itself well.

Waterfront market
The fish market at Deira Waterfront was the most popular spot in the area. Image Credit: File photo

Fish prices per kilogram

  • 1kg Salmon = Dh45
  • 1kg Jumbo shrimp= Dh75
  • 1kg Kingfish= Dh25

Meat and poultry price

  • 1kg of Lamb Meat= Dh28
  • Chicken was not available at that point in time

Final thoughts

You can save money in the long run, especially since items will be bought in bulk. The more you buy, the more they are willing to give you a discount. So if you are someone who is up for a long shopping trip that will come with some discussions, arguing and bargaining, then it may be worth your money.

But the process could be slightly tedious, as you constantly have to look ahead and ignore people. No shopping peacefully there, but the deals might be worth your while.

2. Shopping at Lulu Hypermarket

Lulu Hypermarket is known as one of the most pocket-friendly supermarkets in Dubai. It’s got a wide selection of items and a really great section for electronics.

The hypermarkets are generally very large in space, which means they offer a lot of items. Lulu Hypermarkets also market themselves as a destination. Plenty of parking spaces, play areas for children, food court, money exchange and bank counters and more depending on each location.

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LuLu Hypermarket has a wide selection of items and a great section for electronics. Image Credit: File photo

Parking

It’s free with both underground and overground spots and there were plenty of spaces, despite the popularity of this hypermarket. I went during the day to avoid the rush hour traffic of the evening, so I was able to shop at my leisure.

What can I find there?

  1. Groceries, including fruits, vegetables and produce
  2. Fresh food to take away and eat
  3. Mobiles and gadgets
  4. Electronics
  5. Home and living
  6. Fashion

Shopping experience

Lulu Hypermarkets are huge. It will take a lot of time to get through the supermarket, but huge is good if you want to do a whole haul. In comparison to the Deira Waterfront Market, it is definitely more peaceful and things are easier to get to. The staff never bother you and you can ask them for help anytime. That's generally how I prefer to do things. The prices are labelled clearly and the only downside is that there is no opportunity to bargain or haggle.

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Prices are labelled clearly in LuLu Hypermarket. The only downside is that there is no opportunity to bargain.

Fruits and Vegetables

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, sometimes you have to dig through their offerings to find perfect ones.

Here are the prices:

Vegetables

  • One yellow pepper: Dh2
  • One orange pepper: Dh2
  • 1kg red onions: Dh2.90
  • 1kg Green beans: Dh12
  • 1 head of broccoli: Dh8.50
  • 1kg of potato: Dh4.50
  • 1kg tomato: Dh4
  • 1kg aubergine: Dh10
  • 1kg of cucumbers: Dh6
  • 1kg of corn: Dh9.75
  • 1 small bunch of spring onion = Dh1
  • 2 bunch of baby spinach AND 1 bunch rocket = Both for Dh5
  • Any 3 bunch of herbs or leafy greens = Dh5
  • 1kg carrot= Dh5.50
  • 1 head of Lettuce = Dh4
  • 1kg of Iranian watermelon =Dh2.75
  • 1kg yellow lemons = Dh8
  • 1 coconut = Dh2.95
  • 1kg Avocado = Dh14.50
  • 1kg Mango = 16.75Dh

Eggs and Milk

  • Organic, free range eggs: 30 eggs for Dh40
  • Normal eggs: 30 eggs for Dh15
  • Milk: 1 litre Dh5.80

Rice

  • Indian basmati rice 10kgs = Dh101
  • Egyptian rice 5kg = Dh42

Protein

  • 1kg of Lamb Meat= Dh60
  • 1kg Salmon = Dh100
  • 1kg shrimp= Dh41.25
  • 1kg Kingfish= Dh60
Shoppers at Lulu Hypermarket in Al Qusais, Dubai
Lulu Hypermarket is geared more towards shoppers from the South Asian subcontinent. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Final thoughts

Lulu Hypermarket is a great spot to shop. It is geared more towards the South Asian subcontinent. There is a heavy focus on Indian, Pakistani items, so you might have a bit of trouble finding more Middle Eastern products or imported goods from America or the UK.

3. Shopping at Carrefour

After speaking to many UAE residents, the consensus about Carrefour was on opposite ends. Many said that it is one of the most cost-effective spots to get groceries from, while others explained that it was where "rich people shop". The French superstore has great deals, variety and lower cost on products. That makes it one of the best places to shop and save on high quality items. Carrefour is not only great for groceries, but also because it stocks many other lower-budget items including clothes, accessories, electronics, appliances and much more.

Located all over the city, from the smaller Carrefour Markets and Carrefour Express to the larger superstores in the city's malls, its availability makes it a favourite for many.

Parking

Pretty much always free and always available. The downside about the larger Carrefours is that they are located at malls, which makes it a bit of a hassle parking, walking a long distance, etc.

People shop at Carrefour Hypermarket in City Centre Mirdif
Carrefour is not only great for groceries, but it also stocks many other lower-budget items. Image Credit: File photo

What can you get at Carrefour?

1. Groceries including fruits, vegetables and produce

2. Fresh food to take away and eat

3. Mobiles and gadgets

4. Electronics

5. Home and living

6. Fashion

Shopping experience

Carrefour is where I enjoy shopping the most. They have a good selection of items, especially since many of their generic Carrefour brand products come from France. What I loved about Carrefour is that their staple items are available in a larger variety of brands.

Vegetables

  • One yellow pepper: Dh2
  • One orange pepper: Dh2
  • 1kg red onions: Dh2.90
  • 1kg Green beans: Dh12
  • One head of broccoli: Dh8.50
  • 1kg of potato: Dh4.50
  • 1kg tomato: Dh4
  • 1kg aubergine: Dh10
  • 1kg of cucumbers: Dh6
  • 1kg of corn: Dh9.75
  • 1 small bunch of spring onion = Dh1
  • 2 bunch of baby spinach AND 1 bunch rocket = Both for Dh5
  • (Any 3 bunch of herbs or leafy greens = Dh5)
  • 1kg carrot= Dh5.50
  • 1 head of Lettuce = Dh4
  • 1kg of Iranian watermelon =Dh2.75
  • 1kg yellow lemons= Dh8
  • 1 coconut = Dh2.95
  • 1 kg Avocado = Dh14.50
  • 1 kg Mango = 16.75Dh
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You will find all kinds of people shopping at Carrefour since they have ethnic products from all over the world. Image Credit: File photo

Eggs and Milk

There is such a big selection of eggs you can get at Carrefour. As I mentioned earlier, I tend to prefer the taste of organic eggs when I eat eggs and regular eggs if I bake with them. The price of organic eggs is quite high, but their regular eggs are at a good price. They also have a bunch of different brands, depending on what you prefer. They even have a generic Carrefour brand which runs at Dh4 for 6 eggs.

Milk is also plenty available at Carrefour with different brands and types of milk, including dairy at full fat, low fat and skimmed as well as camel milk, lactose free milk and almond, soy and coconut milk.

  • Organic, free range eggs: 30 eggs for Dh51.20
  • Normal eggs: 30 eggs for Dh17.70
  • Full fat fresh milk 1 liter: Dh5.80

Rice

  • Indian basmati rice 10kgs = Dh64.50
  • Egyptian rice 5kg = Dh60.40

Protein

  • 1kg of Lamb Meat= Dh43.60
  • 1kg Salmon = Dh79.95
  • 1kg shrimp= Dh32.90
  • 1kg Kingfish= Dh39.90

Final thoughts

I think the quality of products at Carrefour is one of the highest in a more “budget” sense. It’s not Spinneys or Waitrose, but you are still guaranteed good stuff. You will find all kinds of people shopping at Carrefour since they have ethnic products from all over the world.

How to plan ahead of any shopping trip

Check the price per unit

This is the best way to compare prices. Not all large packages or bulk items offer the best price. Checking what each unit costs will give you a better idea on whether to buy the ones on sale or in bulk. The unit prices are located in the bottom left corner of the price tag.

Check the bottom shelves

That’s where all the generic items are usually placed. These generic versions are cheaper than the famous big brands that we all know, and sometimes they taste the same. Well-known retailers are charging product makers premium to put their items at eye level, so they will cost more. Shelves put the average and high cost items at eye level to boost sales.

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Shelves put the average and high cost items at eye level to boost sales. Image Credit: Stock photo

Plan your shopping itinerary

Supermarkets and giant grocery stores have professionally designed inviting aisle patterns that entice you to buy things you aren’t planning on eating. The shopping path forces you to walk past products on non-essential aisles. Staple items such as meat, dairy products, breads, and household products are usually located in far corners or the opposite end of the entrance. Try to avoid the middle aisles as much as possible (that's where all the unhealthy and processed foods are stored). A helpful tip is to also plan out your entire week of meals before you go, including what you are expecting as leftovers and the nights you know you will dine out.

Tip: Why not tackle your week like this?

Have a different main every day of the week. Pick one beef, one chicken, one fish, one meatless, a pasta meal, and one whatever you want to double up on and have a take-out night! Then buy what’s needed for those meals. Doesn’t matter what night you cook each one, but you know that you will have the ingredients to make all those meals.

Stick to your habitual grocery list

After you've chosen the most cost-effective groceries and planned your route to save time and money, the next time you go shopping, try to stick to the same list of items until you form a habit.

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Try to stick to the same grocery list of items until you form a habit. Image Credit: Stock photo

Ask the butcher for help

If you are the one responsible for cooking at home, whether for yourself or for the family, then you’ll know exactly what portion of fish, beef or chicken to buy in your house. Instead of buying repackaged premium cut meats, ask the butcher for cheaper cuts or larger cuts, that usually cost less than the ones displayed right out front.

Thaw your own seafood at home

The deli just marks up the price of already thawed meats, which are ready to cook straight away. These are actually the same items you find in the frozen food section. Save your money and buy frozen meats instead of room temperature.

Eat before you shop

Never ever do your grocery shopping before mealtime or when you feel hungry. Take our word for it.

Make sure your products are in good shape

Whenever you buy eggs, you should slightly twist all of the eggs in the carton if you know. That way if they’re cracked on the bottom, they’ll stick and you’ll know not to buy that particular box.

Always review your receipt for errors

You may not always notice this but blunders happen at the cashier section all the time. Keep an eye out when you pay for your groceries to make sure that no double punches are made while checking out and always review your receipt.

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Keep an eye out when you pay for your groceries to make sure that no double punches are made. Image Credit: Stock photo

Scour for coupons

If you dedicate an hour a week on total looking through the newspaper pullouts for coupons, you will know what deals are available for the week. Couponing can save you thousands of dirhams over the year.

What are the most affordable groceries to buy?

1. Pulses

Nutritious, adaptable and wonderfully long-lasting, dried pulses. Pulses are the dried seeds of the legume plants. Hundreds of different varieties of pulses are grown around the globe. Pulses are very filling and can be used in almost all cuisines.

  • Beans (Black, red, kidney and white)
  • Lentils (orange, yellow, black, brown, red...)
  • Fava Beans
  • Chickpeas

2. Eggs

Eggs are incredibly versatile and can be added to almost any dish. Full of protein, good fats and low in sugar, eggs are healthy and delicious.

3. Canned tomatoes

Purchasing tomatoes fresh may not always be the most cost-effective option. Instead you should opt for a box, or can of paste, crushed, or diced in a preserved form. This not only saves you time and money, but can add plenty of flavour to lots of dishes.

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Purchasing tomatoes fresh may not always be the most cost-effective option. Image Credit: Stock photo

4. Potatoes

Potatoes. My favourite ingredient to cook with. They can be made in so many different way. Fried, boiled, mashed... They are also very nutrient-dense and really filling. They also happen to be very inexpensive and can last a long time when stored in the right environment.

5. Canned tuna

I normally don't like to encourage canned food or things that are too processed, but sometimes, you just have to take certain measures to cut down on your grocery bill. Tuna is a great source of protein that can be purchased inexpensively or in bulk.

6. Rice

Rice, whether white or brown, is a great, cheap food that can be used as a side dish for many meals. It provides fiber, vitamins and minerals. Including brown rice in your diet is simple. It is quite easy to prepare and can be enjoyed with just about any meal. Rice can be expensive if you buy certain brands but try to stick to the local stuff.