International Evidence on Food Consumption Patterns
by James L. Seale, Jr., Anita Regmi
, and Jason A. Bernstein
Technical Bulletin No. (TB-1904) 70 pp, October 2003
In the past two decades, average per capita incomes have
increased around the world, more than doubling in many countries.
In addition, the world population is expected to grow by more than
one billion people in the next decade, most of whom will reside in
low and middle-income countries. This growth in population,
combined with rising income levels in developing countries, is
expected to increase and change the composition of global food
demand over the next couple of decades. International Evidence on
Food Consumption Patterns, a highly technical report, presents
information about global consumer food demand patterns that can be
used to forecast future food supply and demand or to simulate the
impacts of various government policies on food demand.
What Is the Issue?
Cross-country food demand analysis can improve understanding of
global food trends by quantifying the relationship between income
levels and food demand, including specific types of food. This
knowledge is crucial in assessing global food needs, trade, and the
demand for associated transportation and infrastructure facilities.
For the United States, one of the largest food producers in the
world, understanding these factors will help determine the market
potential for specific food products in foreign markets.
How Was the Study Conducted?
Analysis was conducted on data obtained from the World Bank, the
1996 International Comparison Project (ICP), which provides
consistent consumption expenditures across 114 countries. This is
the only data covering such a large number of countries and, due to
the data collection process used, allows comparisons both across
countries and among different levels of aggregation of consumer
Consumers base their food purchasing decisions on a budget that
also includes clothing, housing, and other goods and services. The
overall budget available for food depends on the amount of total
household budget spent on these other items. This study provides a
complete analysis of household demand patterns, while focusing on
the composition of food demand in the second stage of the
What Did the Study Find?
The study confirms that consumers in low-income countries spend
a greater portion of their total household budget on necessities,
such as food, compared with the wealthier countries where a greater
portion is spent on services and recreation. Consumers in wealthier
countries spend a greater share of their total food budget on meat
and dairy products than do consumers in low-income countries.
Conversely, in low-income countries, low-value staple food products
such as breads and cereals account for the largest share, 27
percent, of consumers' total food budget compared with 12 percent
in wealthier countries.
Consumers in low-income countries also make greater adjustments
in their household spending on food when incomes and/or prices
change. For example, when household incomes increase by 10 percent,
a consumer in Tanzania will typically increase spending on food by
8 percent; in the Philippines, 6.5 percent; and in the United
States, 1 percent. Likewise, when food prices increase, food
spending in Tanzania would decline the most and in the United
States the least. Across all countries, however, consumers make
relatively smaller adjustments to spending on staple food items
such as cereals, compared with higher-valued food items such as
meat and dairy, whose demand grows faster than the overall demand