Before & After: Price of Local Goods in Lebanon Post-2019
Anyone remember the Golden Age our parents and grandparents so often recounted about pre-civil war Lebanon? Surely we’ve all heard it: the rich presence of arts, music, culture and theater; the unsurpassed hospitality and lavishness of the Lebanese people; the lack of any real consciousness about religious sects and confessions; and above all, the fact that Lebanon served as the financial hub of the Arab world. The expressions “Paris of the Middle East” and “Suissra-el-Charq” illuminate just how cultivated and prosperous Lebanese society was.
Fast forward to 2019, a momentous year that will surely enter the annals of history of our little Mediterranean plot of land. By momentous, of course, I mean complete and utter catastrophe on the banking and finance front as well as deep-seated political gridlock, both of which show no promise of letting up. Seriously, how much worse can it get when you have no access to your hard-earned deposits at the bank? When your credit card gets declined at every point of sale because you’ve exceeded your $50 (yes, $50!) international allotment for the week? When you’ve been warned by the experts to mentally relinquish your funds and pretend as though they never existed, because more likely than not they will vanish when forcibly converted from foreign to local currency coupled with a floating Lebanese pound?
Yeah, I have no doubt that the Golden Age of my generation has irrevocably withered away, and pretty soon we’ll be waxing poetic to our own children about the days of yore.
Let’s participate in a little exercise, shall we? Let’s highlight the change in the price of goods manufactured locally to see just how dramatic one angle of the apocalypse – hyperinflation – has proven.
Who remembers when…
A medium-size (144-g) bag of Master Kettle Cooked chips used to go for LBP 2,000? Now it retails for a whopping LBP 8,000 (just last month it was at LBP 5,000)! But here’s what I don’t get. The chips are composed of three ingredients: "fresh potatoes, vegetable oil and sea salt." Lebanon is famous for its potatoes; hell, it’s one of the few things we actually export. Given that producing potatoes and oil locally hasn’t incurred a rise in cost – everything is sourced within our country's borders – why has the price of a bag of crisps increased four-fold? I thought about contacting Master on their Instagram account to seek a valid explanation, but their last activity registers a date of October 18, 2019 – one day after the start of the people’s revolution! How intriguing.
|A medium-size (144-g) of Master Kettle Cooked chips now retails for LBP 8,000|
A 90-g bag of cri-cri coated peanuts by Al Kazzi sold for LBP 1,000? Now a 250-g bag by the same vendor will set you back around LBP 7,000 (effectively doubling the price), noting simultaneously that the size of the coated peanuts has shrunk substantially. How about Castania’s unique honey-roasted peanuts which sold in 27-g individual portions for a measly LBP 250? Can you buy anything these days for LBP 250? What do we do with our hard currency if there’s absolutely nothing we can get at those price points?
|The price by weight of Al Kazzi cri-cri peanuts has more than doubled, but the size of the constituent nut has diminished markedly. They actually now resemble coated roasted chickpeas (2dameh).|
A 1-L box of UHT Tetra Pak milk went for LBP 2,000? Guess what the price is now? No less than LBP 8,000. Again, can someone please explain the factor of four? Isn’t our dairy sourced locally? Of course it will witness some level of price adjustment, but that kind of jump strikes me as bizarre.
|With the price of dairy milk at quadruple its pre-2019 levels, I suspect it'll be even less popular in Lebanon than it already was.|
A one-kilo tub of laban (Greek-style yogurt) retailed for LBP 2,500 – 3,500? Now one such unit sells for anywhere between LBP 5,500 and 8,500, which isn’t actually all that bad relative to the surge witnessed in other dairy products (case in point: see milk above). What gives? Why is the jump two-fold rather than four? What’s the difference?
|Plain yogurt has doubled in price, so maybe that could be an alternative to dairy milk.|
A 750-ml bottle of local wine started at LBP 9,000 or 10,000? Kefraya’s Les Bretèches was one such specimen that now retails in the LBP 30,000s, depending on its red, white, or rosé hue. I know a little bit about wine and winemaking to comprehend the amplified price: the glass bottles and corks are imported, as are the oak barrels in which the wine is aged. Seeing as foreign products are subject to the black market exchange rate of nearly LBP 9,000 to US$ 1.00, doubling or even tripling the price of a bottle of wine can be justified.
|Because of Lebanon's abysmal financial crisis, local winemakers are mobilizing their international sales to help balance their books and avoid slipping into the red (pun intended).|
Chime in with an example of your own! What’s a product whose increased price has left you disgruntled and vexed?
Photos taken from SpinneysLebanon.com