Converging Patterns In Global Food Consumption
Income growth and globalization of the food retail and food-service industry are giving rise to increasingly similar food consumption patterns across the world. Food consumption patterns of middle- and high-income countries, as indicated by their spending across different food types over time, are converging. Animal products, such as meat and dairy products, are considered a luxury in lower income countries due to their relatively high cost, compared with cereal products.
The expansion of Western-style retail and food-service outlets is modernizing the food marketing sector in developing countries. At the current rate, the Economic Research Service estimates that, in about 20 years, food purchases in middle-income countries through Western-style grocery stores will approach 50% of the level of the sales in higher income countries.
Convergence in the food-service sector is moving faster, with expenditures in middle-income countries expected to reach 50% of the level of high-income countries within a decade. However, given ERS research showing that the foods U.S. consumers choose to eat away from home, on average, are higher in calories but lower in nutrients than foods eaten at home, these trends have important implications for obesity and health in developing countries.
Animal products, such as meat and dairy products, are considered a luxury in lower income countries due to their relatively high cost, compared with cereal products. While the meat and dairy food budget shares remain similar across country groups, 22-25% for meat and 10-12% for milk, their contribution to overall calories increases with rising income levels.
Meat contributes just 4% to total calories in low-income countries, between 7 and 11 percent in lower and upper middle-income countries, and 13% in high-income countries. Milk contributes 5% to total calories consumed in low-income countries versus 11% in high-income countries. The increased caloric contribution suggests that as income increases, consumers buy more animal products, thereby adding calorie density and variety to their diets.[See report for additional detail on other food segments.]