Global Food Consumption Growth, Changes in Consumer Preferences

Due to two major developments in the past two decades at a global level - income growth and changes in consumer preferences- food consumption has been growing at a faster pace than world population.
calendar icon 6 November 2019
clock icon 6 minute read

These developments have resulted in a consumption increase of products of higher value (such as meat and dairy products) in emerging economies. In parallel, rising societal and environmental concerns in developed economies have influenced consumer preferences, leading to lower red meat consumption for example. These are among the main findings of the ‘Global food supply and demand, consumer trends and trade challenges’ market brief, published by the European Commission.

For beef, the largest consumers are in North America, with a consumption of 35 kg per capita, closely followed by South America. The EU is the fourth biggest consumer (15 kg per capita), after Oceania at above 20 kg per capita. About 15% of global beef production is traded, with the largest surplus found in South America. The trade position of the EU has changed significantly over time. For the last three decade consumption per capita has decreased due to shifts in consumer preferences, and from a net-importer, the EU became a net-exporter. The reduction of domestic supply could bring the EU close to self-sufficiency by 2020.

  • The largest beef consumers can be found in North America (above 35 kg/capita), followed by South America (below 35 kg), Oceania (above 20 kg), with the EU and the Black Sea at lower levels (15 kg). Eating more beef is recent in Asia, where consumption reaches only 5 kg per capita. In Africa, beef consumption is more traditional, but limited by availabilities and income disposal at a level slightly above 5 kg per capita.
  • Very different patterns can be observed globally: a strong reduction in beef intake in North America and Oceania and a smaller one in the EU. In South America, consumption per capita continues growing, but at a slow pace. In Asia, the change in per capita consumption is small but in view of population growth, it represents a significant increase in total volume.
  • About 15 % of global production is traded. The largest surplus is found in South America, where production grew significantly in the 2000s and in Oceania (Australia). While in South America 85% of the beef is consumed locally, exports are close to 3 times higher than domestic use in Oceania.
  • The deficit of Asia and Africa is increasing, reaching respectively 13% and 8%. US and Canada export significant quantities of beef but they also import and trade between themselves, leading North America as a region to self-sufficiency. The net-trade position of the EU varied significantly over time. For three decades, per capita consumption decreased in the EU due to shifts in consumer preferences and from a net-importer, the EU became a net-exporter. But the subsequent reduction of domestic supply could bring the EU close to selfsufficiency by 2020 (although exporting around 5% of its production).

The EU and North America are the largest users of dairy products with both around 270 kg of milk equivalent per capita. In South America, consumption grew to 150 kg per capita. While in Asia it will reach 70 kg per capita in 2020. The African consumption remains stable at below 50 kg per capita, however the population growth leads to a significant increase in total use and a deeper deficit due to production not keeping with demand. The main suppliers are Oceania, the EU and North America. Oceania exports 200% of its use, as the EU’s surplus reaches more than 10% of its use.

  • The EU and North America are the largest users of dairy products with around 270 kg of milk equivalent per capita.
  • In Oceania, consumption is slightly lower as well as in the Black Sea. In South America, consumption
  • grew to 150 kg per capita. In Asia, consumption rose significantly to 70 kg per capita by 2020. In Africa, the per capita consumption remains stable (below 50 kg) but population growth leads to a significant increase in total use and a deeper deficit, as production does not keep up with demand. Only South Africa is self-sufficient.
  • The rising import needs of Asia (especially of China) mainly drive the world trade developments.
  • The main suppliers of dairy products are Oceania, the EU and North America. Oceania exports 200% of its use (and New Zealand 90% of its production). In the EU, the surplus reaches more than 10% of use.

Regarding wheat, the EU is the second largest global user with around 250 kg per capita, after the Black Sea region. EU consumption has been growing steadily over time, driven mainly by the development of the livestock sector due to the use of wheat in animal feed. Four regions supply the world with wheat: the EU, the Black Sea region, North America and Oceania. The EU is a major wheat exporter, trading up to 20% of its use.

North America is by far the largest user of maize, reaching almost 900 kg per capita, significantly above use in South America at 240 kg per capita and the EU at 140 kg per capita. The substantial global increase in maize is linked to the expansion of livestock production and more recently to the production of maize-based ethanol. With almost 15% of global maize production traded, the main suppliers are South and North America followed by the Black Sea region. In contrast, the EU is the biggest maize importer, with close to 25 million tonnes of imported maize in 2018/2019.

As soya bean, it is a crop mainly produced and traded by the Americas. They represent 82% of production. At a global level, two thirds of availability is crushed into meals to be used in feed. The EU is the main destination market for soya meals, representing 30% of world trade. However EU import needs are declining by using alternative sources such as cereals and more recently pulses.

Sugar per capita consumption is much more stable worldwide. The largest user is South America, at above 50 kg per capita, where market conditions influence the quantity of sugar that is channelled as food or ethanol production. In the EU, the level of consumption, at 37 kg per capita, is above North America’s at 30 kg per capita. This is due to the EU processing more sugar into ethanol and because of lower use of other sweeteners such as isoglucose. As global production, 40% is located in Asia and 30% in South America. Following the 2006 sector reforms and the end of the sugar production quota in 2017, the EU now oscillates between self-sufficiency and a small surplus.

The EU is by far the largest consumer of pigmeat, as its preferred meat, with a consumption above 40 kg per capita. It is followed by North America at below 30kg per capita. Pork is also the favoured meat in Asia, where it should reach 15 kg per capita by 2020. Less than 8% of global production is traded, with more than 80% of exports originating from North America and the EU. Both regions have had a slight decrease of consumption, together with higher production, leading to an increase of surplus. The latter reached 30% of use in North America and 12% in the EU.

For poultry, consumption increases significantly in all regions of the world, and gains over other meats being cheaper and more convenient. It is the first meat eaten in the Americas, Oceania and Africa. The largest consumer is North America, at above 50 kg per capita, followed by South America, Oceania and the EU at above 25 kg per capita. 12% of global production is traded, with the Americas as the main suppliers. The EU is also a major poultry exporter for certain cuts and imports high value cuts such as breasts, leading to a surplus of 5% of its use.

More detailed information is available in the market brief for global consumption and trade trends for the wheat, maize, soya bean, sugar, beef, pigmeat, poultry and dairy sectors.

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