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Egyptians Dump Imports, Start Buying Local Products

Egyptian-made products are much more affordable for customers who are increasingly price-conscious.Egyptian-made products are much more affordable for customers who are increasingly price-conscious.

Egyptian chocolate spread maker Swifax has doubled its sales and is struggling to keep up with demand since the pound currency dived in November, forcing shoppers traditionally “obsessed with everything foreign” to ditch pricy imports and buy local.

“People started changing their habits,” Swifax’s commercial director Mohamed El Gammal told Reuters. “We could sell even more ... but we have a problem with our capacity.”

The pound’s flotation and an ensuing increase in tariffs on more than 300 products shipped from abroad have hit importers hard, but have been a boon for domestic manufacturers such as Swifax.

Once shunned in favor of prestigious foreign brands perceived to offer higher quality, Egyptian-made products are much more affordable for customers who are increasingly price conscious as inflation has shot above 28%.

The bonanza began when Egypt abandoned its peg of 8.8 pounds to the dollar on Nov. 3. Since then, the currency has roughly halved in value to around 17.75.

Sitting in his office next to a glass cabinet crammed with varieties of the sandwich-filler popular with sweet-toothed Egyptians, Gammal said sales have jumped from two million pounds ($112,700) a few months before the flotation to four million, as rival imported brands become unaffordable to many.

A 350-gram jar of Swifax’s high-end spread, Moltobella, costs 36 pounds while its budget brand costs around 17 pounds. Its main imported competitor sells for about 70 pounds a jar.

Floating the pound helped Egypt to secure a $12 billion IMF loan in return for a reform program that includes tax increases and electricity subsidy cuts, driving up inflation in a country where millions live a pay cheque from hunger.

Egypt also raised customs tariffs on many luxury goods to over 50%, plugged customs loopholes and tightened quality controls in an effort to rein in a trade deficit the central bank blames for depressing the currency.

Importers criticized the increases, saying local producers don’t have the capacity to fill the gap left by declining sales of foreign goods.

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