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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Price Hikes Alter Russians Shopping Strategy

At a bread store near the Oktyabrskoye Polye metre station, an elderly woman yells at the salesperson for charging 25 rubles for a loaf of white bread. The salesperson snaps back:


"Well, if you don't like it, you can go somewhere else". With a grunt, the unhappy shopper trots off elsewhere. Last year's long lines and empty shelves are history, but that has not made life any easier for low-income Muscovites. This year's reality of freed prices has filled the shelves, but with runaway inflation Muscovites are still forced to spend their days shopping.


Where once they spent all day in line, now they must spend all day shuttling from shop to shop to get the best buys. and the best buys are hard to find.


If the elderly woman from Oktyabrskoye Polye would shop around, she might get a cheaper loaf of bread. A short survey of stores near metro stations on the line from Oktyabrskoye Polye to the center of town showed that a loaf of white bread may cost anywhere from 15 to 30 rubles these days. For a pensioner with a monthly income of 2, 000 to 4, 000 rubles, that difference may be worth the walk.


Finding the best buys is more important than ever for those on low incomes because inflation has driven prices sharply up over the last six months. A loaf of dark bread that cost an average 4. 39 rubles in May went for 22. 80 rubles in November - an increase of 500 percent, according to Economics Ministry statistics. The price of butter has doubled and milk has tripled, the data shows.


As a result, shoppers are having to shed old queuing habits and learn new scouting techniques.


The cheapest places to shop are not the most obvious. A drab former state store in the same area charges just under 8 rubles for an egg, while a small shop billed as "commercial" only charges 5 rubles. In the prosperous suburb of Krylatskoye, with its buildings for Russian politicians and foreigners, a cabbage can be had for 25 rubles, while in the grey region around Oktyabrskoye Polye the cheapest cabbage costs 27. 5 rubles.


That means the elderly woman has to figure out what the cheapest place is for each product. At Ulitsa 1905 metro, she may figure that a former state store will sell sausage for less than the cooperative across the street, because that is how it used to be.


Wrong. The state store charges 403 rubles per kilogram for Molochnaya sausage, up from 256 two weeks ago. The cooperative offers 10 different sausages instead of three, including a sausage similar to the Molochnaya that goes for 341 rubles per kilogram.


When asked why her store charged more than the cooperative, a sales clerk at the state store said, shrugging her shoulders, "It depends on the factory I suppose".


The store manager insisted that the store adds a flat 15 percent to the factory price. Other stores may opt for a lower profit margin, or bargain with the factory to keep prices down.


So the pensioners shop around - if


they can, that is. Many older citizens are unable to go out, let alone cruise the entire city, and have to rely on social workers like Viktor Privezentsev. Twice a week, Privezentsev buys bread, milk products and vegetables for eight pensioners and invalids, and delivers it to their communal apartments around Kitai Gorod metro station.


Even in August, none of his customers ate meat, or vegetables other than cabbage, carrots and beets. Now, they opt for half a cabbage and one beet a week instead of two, Privezentsev said. The pensioners insist they do fine, thanks to the social worker, a free meal a day at a nearby cafeteria for some, and free subscription drugs that may or may not be available.


They are unlikely to visit the Tsentralny Rynok or Moscow's other major markets where luscious fresh fruit and vegetables are flown in every day from southern regions. If they did happen to stray in and head for the cabbage, the vendors would tell them to pay 100 rubles per kilogram - four times the average price.