Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Is it worth it?: Groceries in the Philippines



I don't live in the Philippines to save money. That would be totally ridiculous, considering there are many countries in the region where the cost of living is cheaper or at least roughly equal, and that don't require the same level of compromise to my quality of life.

No, I'm here because it's where my wife's family lives, and not everybody can be as cold and ruthless as me when it comes to severing ties and living in self-imposed exile. At least let me be good at something.

But I'm not here to bash on the Philippines again. I got most of that out of my system in my first two years here, especially now we're living in a place where I'm isolated from the worst aspects of the country most of the time. Instead, I thought I'd use my experience and unbiased maths to illuminate some of the reasons why this is a confusing and frustrating place to live, and to better understand why someone on the average monthly income of 10,000 pesos (less than $8 per day) might be having a bit of a hard time not dying in a gutter.

This time: largely imported groceries mostly at more expensive prices than in the developed world.


NCCC Supermarket




I've shopped at several brands of supermarkets in this country, but this one goes out of its way to be the most annoying. Especially since we moved and it became our local, but I can't really blame them for that one.

It's not just the ungainly name that makes it annoying (only about 10%), but the obstacles they put in the way to make your weekly shop that much more time-consuming and frustrating. It starts with the security check, which is a requirement for shops of all sizes in this depressing land of thieves and terrorists, but which you'd think would be unnecessary when you've already been screened on the way into the larger mall this supermarket is contained within. Are you telling me those guards at the front aren't doing a thorough job when they lazily stroke my thighs before waving me through? Don't even think about making a purchase from more than one outlet in this shopping paradise either, as they won't let your dirty foreign bags into their business. Way to curb our spending frenzies and stop us racking up credit card debt, it's like you don't understand what malls are for.

If you do make it past the second set of guards, things get worse. When I lived in the UK, I signed a couple of petitions trying to end divisive faith schools for children. In the Philippines, not only are religiously segregated schools the standard, they even have faith supermarkets. Every once in a while during your NCCCC shopping adventure, the blaring music will be usurped by a muffled recording of the chain's owner delivering a mini-sermon at louder volume than the shitty speakers are able to comfortably handle, inviting the more devout shoppers to stop in their tracks and get in the way of us hectic heretics, lest they look bad. It's sort of like the king's anthem in Thailand, except at least that runs on schedule so you can time your trips to the night market and don't have to make the difficult choice between kowtowing to insulting nonsense or walking a fine legal line.




That isn't my video, but if you know me, you might find it amusing to imagine my unimpressed face behind the camera. I love fun, me.


Just in case you do happen to be Catholic, and didn't find that impromptu call to prayer annoying, you'll still get your chance as it's then time for the entire staff to stop what they're doing and spread out across the end of the aisles to perform a motivational dance routine and completely block everyone's access. Not that the staff are even any use during the periods when they're actually working, as this work mainly seems to involve announcing that the aisle I'm passing contains "bread, sir" in case I'm illiterate or stupid. Well, to be fair, that is the case for the majority of their customers. The Catholic part, I mean. I forgot to type it earlier.

The fault doesn't only lie with the management and the staff, as a lot of the customers are doing their bit for the shopping nightmare too. NCCCCC is supposed to be towards the cheaper end of the spectrum, which means it's where sari-sari owners (family-run convenience stores operating out of residential houses with attractive cage facades) stock up on wares to sell to their neighbours at a 10% markup, unloading endless concertinaing sachets of Nescafe 3-in-1 and girder-length blocks of washing powder from their trolleys onto the conveyor belts, then letting those abandoned trolleys careen wildly into displays or other customers before a nearby employee finishes doing his fucking dance and wrestles it back under control.

But how cheap is NCCCCCC? To find out, here's my diligently transcribed receipt (with annotations, like it's a literary classic) from this week's shop for you to cut out and compare to the prices where you live.

At the time of publishing, 1 Philippine peso = £0.015 in international currency, or $0.022 if you're American.


*******************************
NCCC SUPERMARKET
LTS Supermarkets, Inc
[1]
TIN 006-171-689-000 VAT
Ma-a Crossing Matina
Davao City
Tel. #(082)298-0888 Loc 200
Acc#11300598992500049139053
SERIAL#9VMGNBNM
MIN110206741/021112391091000

*******************************
Number #:
Name :
Points :

QTY ITEM PRICE TOTAL [2]

1 10570476 16.50 16.50T
MENTOS AIR ACTN CNDY RL
1 10809745 53.55 53.55T
MENTOS PREFRSH TN PPRMNT [3]
1 10148992 68.60 68.60T
CLARAOLE SWT STYLE SPAG
10433508 100.00 75.60T
CS NC WHITE ONION
0.756KG [4]
10263736 45.00 72.81T
CHOICE BNNA LACATAN
1.618KG
10028254 23.00 33.40T
CHOICE WATERMELON
1.452KG
10028390 47.00 7.52T
CHOICE KENTUCKY BEANS
0.160KG
1 10810905 34.85 34.85T
CLARAOLE BCHML WHT SCE 2 [5]
10604475 150.00 66.30T
CS GF BROCCOLI
0.442KG [6]
10604411 400.00 64.80T
CS GF CAPSICUM RED [7]
0.162KG
10604439 85.00 22.44T
CS GF PTTO REG
0.264KG
1 10129366 45.00 45.00T
CSMCAAPPLEFUJI#72-801S [8]
1 10380173 16.75 16.75T
CS EONS CHILI POWDER PUR
1 10433551 15.00 15.00T
CS NC PRSLY CRLY 20G
10604366 105.00 22.47T
CS GF CCMBR JPNSE [9]
0.214KG
10433521 150.00 37.20T
CS NC ICEBERG LTCE
0.248KG [10]
10083228 140.00 17.08T
CS FEL SIBUYAS OAHON [11]
0.122KG
10584426 215.00 76.97T
CS GF TMTO WHOPPER
0.358KG
1 10319901 135.80 135.80T
VF CHIX HD 1KG [12]
1 10006157 59.50 59.50N
CHOICE FRZN MXD VEG 500G
10613307 216.00 74.74T
VIRGINIA FRZN CRND BF LS
0.346KG
10640279 280.00 89.60T
CS ML DLGNGBKDBG [13]
0.320KG
10354662 280.00 107.52T
CS CT MAYAMAYA M
0.384KG [14]
10172959 109.00 52.76T
CHOICE FRNCH FRS LSD [15]
0.484KG
1 10014241 71.25 71.25T
CHOICE EGG LGE 12S
1 10387396 41.00 41.00T
SUNSILK SH DMGE RECON 90
1 10344148 52.05 52.05T
BELO SMTHNNG WHTNNG BDYB [16]
1 10458042 15.60 15.60T
RAM SPCL BHN 227G
1 10506575 72.00 72.00T
CS GRDNIA HF WHTBRD600G [17]
1 10023560 15.95 15.95T
SS SOY SCE 385ML

Sub Total P1,534.61

Total P1,534.61 (£23.28 / $34.36)

Cash P2,000.00
ROUND CHANGE ====> P-0.04 [18]

CHANGE ====> P-465.35

VATable Sales : P533.39
VAT : P64.00
Non-VATable Sales : P937.22
Cashier: Ailyn Devalgue [19]
===============================
Please present this receipt for
merchandise return and exchange.
" TO SERVE YOU BETTER, we would like
to hear from you. Text FEEDBACK 307
[Your Message] to 0917-3117905 "
[20]
-------------------------------
This is your Official Receipt! [21]
===============================
T#:1030 Str00307Reg092/8985 3/15/15 20:03
Invoice #: 203195 TQty: 30

* E L T F D O B N Q A A L V * [22]


~ Footnotes ~

[1] Where did LTS come from? Which one is it then?
[2] I've had enough experience of getting annoyed by html formatting that I just didn't bother
[3] My wife has a cold, we're not stocking up for our Mentos reseller business
[4] I think 'white' (brown) onions are imported. 'Red' (purple) onions are cheaper, but not as nice
[5] No idea what that is
[6] Broccoli seems unreasonably expensive, while watermelon seems unreasonably cheap
[7] This means bell pepper
[8] 68p for an apple? I know she wants me to eat more fruit, but you just get better value with Fun-O's
[9] When shopping in the Philippines, you'll notice many products boasting of their foreign origin. "Look, this doesn't come from here! It might actually be good!"
[10] 56p for a lettuce
[11] This means spring onion
[12] Whatever that is, we've got 1kg of it
[13] You can never have too much dlgngbkdbg, that's what I always say
[14] I was told 'maya' means sparrow, but that's probably just a weird fish. Hopefully.
[15] Space fries
[16] It's hard work trying to find a bar of soap in the Philippines that doesn't want to bleach your skin, so sometimes I just surrender. Let's all change ourselves!
[17] Unless you're prepared to settle for cheap and suspicious 'cream bread,' a loaf that actually makes crumbs will set you back. There's no Sainsbury's Basics range here
[18] What the hell is this, NCCC? It's a good job I analysed this receipt after all, I want my 3/50 of a pence back
[19] Bit personal, isn't it?
[20] I like how the receipt is speaking this part
[21] I like how I'm supposed to be excited by this information
[22] There was a barcode above this, but my ASCII skills aren't up to that.


Davao Central Convenience Store




NCCCCCCC isn't that local, but fortunately Davao Central Convenience Store is within walking distance (I can see it out of the window) when we need to stock up on the essentials - by which I mean snacks, toiletries and that's it. It would be of greater 'Convenience' if they sold any fruit, vegetables, non-tinned meat or basically anything organic or containing nutrition, and 'Central' doesn't really apply to the vast majority of branches that don't happen to be in the city centre. But it is in Davao, and it is admittedly a Store, so they at least got it 50% right.

So here's the heavy/tinned/garbage side of the weekly shop, for the things that didn't need to be carted on the jeepney:


DAVAO CENTRAL CONVENIENCE STORE, INC
MAA 1 BRANCH
ST. MICHAEL VILL.MAA DAVAO CITY
TIN#: 005-158-986-038VAT
ACN#: 034-008417952-000657
PN#:0214-113-179739-038
MIN#:140345944
Serial#:SGH251SPTW
===============================
ITEM QTY PRICE TOTAL
000389898 1 56.00 56.00T
FUN-O CHUNKS CHCLTE 37GX10S
[23]
000364032 1 64.00 64.00T
CREAM-O DELUXE 33GX10S
000374614 1 16.00 16.00T
HUNTS CHILI BEEF & BEANS 100G
000353518 10 14.00 140.00T
NESVITA CMD ORIGINAL 30G
000338999 10 13.00 130.00T
JIMMS COFFEE 5N1 21G [24]
000423422 1 20.00 20.00T
FITBAR FRUITS 25G [25]
000393025 1 30.00 30.00T
COOL AIR MENTHL RSLABLE 25S [26]
000356121 1 19.00 19.00T
MENTOS AIR ACTN ROLLS 37.8G
000364228 2 26.00 52.00T
NISSIN C/NDL BEEF 60G
000347205 1 38.00 38.00T
SAN MARINO TUNA PAELLA 180G
000347205 1 38.00 38.00T
SAN MARINO TUNA PAELLA 180G [27]
000342805 1 57.00 57.00T
ALASKA CONDENSED MILK 300ML
000344162 2 32.00 64.00T
CENTURY TUNA FLKS OIL 155G
000001482 0 52.00 104.00N [28]
RICE PREMIUM MASIPAG
2.000 KG

Sale Total P828.00 (£12.56 / $18.54)

CASH 1,000.00
CHANGE ====> -172.00

Cashier: 27211 No Of Items: 34
VATable Sales 646.43
VAT 77.57
Non-Vatable 104.00
===============================
R002 T5895 OR No: 230733 3/18/15 6:40 [29]
===============================
THIS IS YOUR OFFICIAL RECEIPT
Thank You Come Again! [30]
Bring This Receipt in case of Return or
Exchange of merchandise within 7 days [31] [32]


~ Footnotes (cont.) (no, I said 'cont') ~

[23] Finally, some real food
[24] You won't need any fibre in the house with this efficient Korean blend
[25] I needed a quick snack for the long voyage home, and since I knew you were watching, I opted for something marginally healthier than a Pinipig bar
[26] Still got that cold
[27] That's what the 'quantity: 2' function is for, idiot. They didn't disclose her identity this time
[28] If one bag costs 52.00, why does none cost double?
[29] I always head there very early to avoid the people and traffic. If I wake up past 8:00, shopping's off until tomorrow. What is my life?
[30] Stop confusing my racial stereotypes
[31] Please use http://titlecase.com/
[32] Obviously, this is just the stuff we happened to buy this week rather than a default itinerary. We aren't living a miraculous life free from toilet paper.


Weekly grocery bill: P2,362.61 (£35.84 / $52.90)

Monthly grocery bill (estimate): P9,450.44 (£143.36 / $211.60)

Annual grocery bill (estimater): P113,405.28 (£1,720.32 / $2,539.20)

Million-year grocery bill (certain): P113,405,280,000.00 (£1,720,320,000.00 / $2,539,200,000.00)


If you're wondering how a low income Filipino is supposed to afford that, the answer is they don't have to. Most areas are well catered for by wet markets where you can pick up fresh(ish) local produce at up to half price if you're prepared to deal with the crowds and the noise, which I'm obviously not. Though if you're the sort of person who prefers market food as a more authentic alternative to processed supermarket tripe, you do have to factor in its exposure to a day's worth of unregulated jeepney and motorbike exhausts by the side of the road. Lami-a!

Check back in 2017 when I'll expose the comparatively exorbitant cost of non-second-hand clothes, tuition fees, imported electronics or something. I'm not going anywhere.

4 comments:

  1. It most certainly is enlightening to know, that being a multi-billionaire is only a mere million years away with a simple saving plan…

    I wonder why the NCCCCCCCC receipt is in English...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most official stuff is in English by default. Since most people in this country speak a regional language (unless they grew up in the main Manila area, poor sods), they have to be trilingual in their native tongue, Filipino/Tagalog and English to get anywhere in life.

      The widespread English is certainly a tick in the plus column for living here. That column needs anything it can get.

      Delete
  2. Is there anything other than broccoli that seems outrageously expensive? I remember in Thailand being amazed at how much cheese and wine cost, even if it is kind of understandable, but still shocking to see things around the same price as in Australia.

    Also, does Mentos really make colds better?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In my limited, square experience, the cost of (imported) breakfast cereals is crazy, and non-rubbish bread and imported vegetables are expensive compared to what I used to pay. Those vegetables be spotted in the supermarket as the ones that are proper-sized (maybe our parents would say genetically-modified-sized) rather than weedy, especially noticeable with peppers, tomatoes and onions. You also never see big bags of potatoes or carrots here, I don't think they expect people to need more than two in the house at a time.

      As for the Mentos and other odd attempts at remedies, I don't ask questions any more.

      Delete