The retailer is currently surviving on the hope that the government will come through with a loan it promised last year to help replenish Uchumi’s shelves, especially during this festive season. Employees and loyal customers have borne the brunt of this state of affairs in equal measure.

Uchumi paid its workers for the first time in three months this week, the Business Daily learnt. But November’s salary remains outstanding.  

Customers going into the supermarket often walk out empty-handed.

Agnes Kirinya, an administrative assistant in Nairobi, said she had been shopping at Uchumi for more than 30 years. But in recent months, the empty shelves have made it difficult to keep visiting the retail chain’s shops.

“The other supermarkets learnt how to do things from Uchumi,” she said, adding she has recently realised that loyalty cannot fill a shopping cart.

WOES

Uchumi is haemorrhaging customers every day to more nimble and better stocked competitors.

Ian Koech, a student at Multimedia University, says that he has now turned to “smaller retailers” near his Ongata Rongai home to meet his supplies needs. He sips from a bottle of Mountain Valley water that he bought at Uchumi only because he couldn’t find his preferred brand.

Competition in Kenya’s retail has intensified even as giant Nakumatt also battles a life-threatening crisis that has left it with empty shelves and forced it to close a number of outlets.

Uchumi Jipange sits opposite the bustling Naivas on Thika Road. Down the road, foreign retailers Game and Carrefour are running swift business.

But Uchumi employees retain a certain sense of hope. There are loyal customers who come again and again, especially for the freshly baked products that seem largely unaffected.

Perhaps if the loan from the government could be turned faster towards restocking, these customers will buy more than just a tea scone or a coconut macaroon.

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