Mass exit of expat families leaves a bitter taste for sweet sellers

March 27, 2018

Irfan Mohammed

Saudi Gazette

— The fact that a large number of expatriate families have left or are preparing to leave the Kingdom for good in the wake the dependent levy has negatively affected certain businesses that entirely hinged on them.

Ethnic food shops and sweet stores that especially catered to the south Asian communities in the Kingdom are among the hardest hit.

The clientele of these ethnic sweet shops more or less have been entirely the families of expatriates and with a vast majority of them returning home for good, they are witnessing a big fall in customers.

There is an estimated 50 percent decline in sales of sweets in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, according to traders. The sales are expected to drop further in coming months, they say.

Many of the shops are downsizing their activities, putting scores of jobs at risk. Some master chefs known as "halwais" with expertise in the traditional craft have already lost their jobs and returned to home, and many others are working without any assistants.

Exchanging sweets among friends and relatives on all happy occasions and celebrations is a time-honored custom in south Asia while sweets are also an indispensable part of the cuisine.

Most south Asian people carry with them sweets as a present whenever they visit a relative or friend and this is a tradition especially among Pakistani expatriates.

Also many expatriates from the sub-continent bought sweets for their children for the afternoon snack.

As many expatriates, unable to afford the huge dependent levy that adds up to tens of thousands of riyals annually for some, are sending their families home the sweet shops are feeling the pinch.

“We used to sell an average of 2,000 kilograms of sweets a day in our shops but in the last few months the sales dropped down to less than half of that," said Saqib Rasheed Ghazi of Nirala Sweets, a popular sweets shop with multiple branches in Jeddah.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, he said his clientele was entirely families with children who are fond of sweets. Since their number is shrinking so is the sweet business.

Saqib said unlike the restaurants where the singles still form the prime segment of customers, the customers of sweet shops primarily constituted families.

"The departure of families in large numbers is denting our business," said Mohammed Shamshir of Baba Pak Sweets, a leading sweet shop in Riyadh.

He told Saudi Gazette over the phone that sweet business is hardest-hit as families departing from Kingdom.

Shamshir said his sales decreased to nearly 40 percent.

He saw a grim future for the "desi mithai" business, as the sector is commonly known in community circles.

He also revealed that some of his chefs were terminated due to the fall in business.

Echoing the same concerns, Arsalan of Sialkot Sweets in Dammam, said his sales was down to 60 percent in recent months.

Expressing his deep concern over the dull business, Arsalan said even on weekends the volume of business was no way close to what it used to be in the past.

March 27, 2018
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