Anger at Rising Prices Hits a New Target in Saudi Arabia: Milk

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia’s biggest dairy has become a boycott target of citizens smarting over the cost of remaking the kingdom’s economy.

A social media campaign is circulating photos of a popular yogurt drink plastered with a red X and the phrase “let it go sour” after Almarai Co. raised the price of a liter of milk by 0.25 riyals, or 7 cents. In a statement, the dairy said it raised prices because its own costs went up after the government cut energy subsidies and introduced new fees on foreign workers.

It’s been a shock to some citizens used to government largess to see belt-tightening as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tries to break the economy’s reliance on oil, in part by cutting spending and taking steps, like the fees on foreign workers, to prod companies to hire more Saudis. Government payouts to low- and middle-income Saudis haven’t quelled the complaints.

‘Greedy Companies’

Journalist Bandar Otyf called for an Almarai boycott in a Twitter post, denouncing the “greedy companies” that target “the income of the simple citizen.” And Almarai is just the latest target of consumers’ ire: Just a few days earlier, it was Saudi Electricity Co., after bills soared along with summer temperatures, to double or triple the usual amount in some cases. The Okaz newspaper reported that “droves of customers were registering complaints” at the utility’s offices, making the company “the talk of the town.”

The grumbling rose to such a pitch that the government electricity authority issued a statement on Saturday declaring the billing system sound. The governor of the authority appeared on a local television channel to defend the system, saying his own electricity bill reached 3,000 riyals a month in the summer.

That attempt at mollification did anything but, as another round of Twitter posts pointed out how out of touch the governor was with the lives of ordinary citizens: Such a bill would cripple the average Saudi, who earns about 7,400 riyals ($1,973) a month, according to one government estimate.

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