Inflation and price increases: The #kebab inflation is overdue

The kebab price is rising rapidly. The 10-euro barrier was broken in Frankfurt. So far, however, the doner kebab has been sold far below its value.

A person eats a doner kebap

Yummy doner! Photo: Jens Gyarmaty/laif

A doner kebab now costs 10 euros in Frankfurt am Main. In words: ten euros! That reports the Frankfurt New Press on Wednesday with reference to a popular kebab house in the city center of the Main metropolis.

It’s not about a financial district luxury version with truffle sauce and the best organic meat, but about that Doner popular, say something from the animal with gravy and lettuce, onions and tomato in the flatbread. And that on the hand, to eat while standing. At the beginning of the year, this cost an average of 5 euros. With inflation, it quickly became 6, 7 or 8 euros in many places – the kebab prices rose far faster than the average inflation rate. The massive price increases that could be observed in a very short time for kebabs are an enormous burden for many Germans.

10 euros, this number calls into question many things that seemed to be taken for granted for decades, not least that migrants in Germany provide cheap food and ensure that even those who have little can fill their stomachs with a wholesome meal.

The incredible price-performance ratio of the doner kebab in bread has been a relevant contribution of the Turkish community to maintaining social peace in this country for decades. On the other hand, in the course of its 50-year history, the kebab has become the most popular fast food among Germans – far behind the bratwurst or currywurst.

People’s court number one

In Germany, up to 550 tons of kebab meat are consumed every day, i.e. around 200,000 tons a year. On average, every German eats 16 doner kebabs a year. The Germans are supplied by around 18,500 kebab shops with 80,000 employees, which means nothing other than that there is one kebab shop for every 4,500 inhabitants. And these doner kebab shops generate more sales than the ten largest players in system catering in Germany combined, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Nordsee GmbH, Ikea Germany, Starbucks or Mövenpick.

And because the doner kebab is the number one people’s dish in Germany, the inflation index is no longer measured by what a kilogram of pork or a pound of butter costs, but by how long it takes to make a doner kebab today.

And when Elon Musk answers the question of what his favorite food in Germany is: “The doner kebab!”, then it’s clear: the doner kebab is now part of the German identity. How this could happen is easily explained: the Germans love it cheap and they love huge portions of meat. The kebab offers both.

So far.

Of course, part of the price increase has to do with the fact that the doner kebab industry has been unduly affected by rising energy prices. The cold chain from production to preparation on the grill uses gas, a lot of gas, which is now becoming scarce and expensive.

However, the truth is also: the 5-euro doner kebab has been far too cheap for all these years. Too cheap for a dish that usually consists of six to eight components and contains about 150 to 200 grams of meat.

Kebab gastro as a way out

The doner kebab owes its success not to a hip and cool marketing strategy, but to sweaty, hard work for little money. For decades, the industry offered the doner kebab far below value, to the delight of consumers. All of this was only possible because of enormous exploitation, mostly self-exploitation, in the small family businesses, the kebab production facilities and the flatbread bakeries. Here the work and pay were far below the usual trade union standards. This system worked for decades because the doner kebab industry was often the only remaining survival strategy to avoid unemployment, the loss of residence status, and deportation or racism to avoid in the workplace. This was true from the 1970s until well into the noughties.

A lot has changed in the meantime. Many Turks are now Germans, many children and grandchildren of the founding generation have risen socially thanks to the capital accumulated in the kebab industry and now earn their money as journalists, lawyers, café and club operators and much more.

On the other hand, for those who did not make it through education and social advancement, with the general expansion of the low-wage sector in the 1920s and 1920s, alternatives to extremely hard physical work at the takeaway were available – be it at Amazon or any of the other delivery services.

The doner kebab industry is under enormous cost pressure today. Doner kebab companies also have to pay the minimum wage and compete for the increasingly scarce workforce. Doner kebab production facilities are increasingly being relocated from Germany to Poland, where the minimum wage is less than 4 euros. And many snack bars have long since stopped finding employees from the Turkish community – and no skilled workers who can handle the famous long doner kebab knife.

A mystery remains unsolved

That is the reason why we see more and more people, including more and more women, in front of the kebab skewers, handling the electric kebab knife. Today, refugees from Afghanistan, Syria or other countries work in many kebab shops, who have to thread their way into the system at the lower end.

However, one mystery of the inflationary price development has not yet been fully deciphered: while the price of the doner kebab is galloping, the Arabic variant shawarma and gyros, the Greek sister of the pork doner kebab, take things more leisurely. Gyros are still available in many places for 5 or 6 euros, as is shawarma.

Eberhard Seidel is the author of the book “Döner. A Turkish-German cultural history” (März Verlag, Berlin 2022). Seidel can be seen and heard in Berlin on Sunday: “Die big city of small people: doner kebab, a Turkish-German cultural history”, event at 11 a.m. in the Kurt Mühlenhaupt Museum, Fidicinstraße 40, Berlin-Kreuzberg

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