Unbelievably, USDA (2017) data shows that the annual food expenditure per each Hong Kong people is the highest in the world, amounting to over US$4000, which is almost doubled of US people’s, and 3 times of Singaporeans’ (Figure 1). There are three plausible reasons, viz. (1) HK people eat the most, (2) HK people eat high quality and thus more expensive food, or (3) food price in HK is more expensive due to other reasons, such as high land price, monopolized supply chain, etc.
Last month, we have examined about food consumption of HK people (Yiu, 2019), and it confirms that HK people eat much more than many other countries, especially on animal proteins. For example, the animal-protein consumption of HK people is almost doubled that of Taiwanese. Meat consumption quantity of HK people (148kg/person/year — beef, pork and poultry) is even higher than that of the US (Figure 2). Yet, the difference is much less than 100%, so it still cannot explain all of the food expenditure difference.
However, if we compare the food consumption rate (by means of calories) of HK people with US people, HK people’s food consumption rate is still a bit lower. In other words, consumption Quantity (no matter based on meat or on calories) could not fully explain why food expenditure per person of HK would be 100% more than that of US. (Figure 3) It shows that US people is consuming 3682 kcal per day, and HK people is 3290 kcal per day, both are much higher than the world average of 2884 kcal per day. Yet, one may argue that calorie does not represent all food quantity, as there are more and more zero-calorie and low-calorie food supply.
Then, would that be due to the quality of food? This hypothesis is hard to be tested, as there is no consensus on the definition of food quality. However, being a Hong Kong people, I would not agree that we are eating higher quality food than US people. But we must admit that we eat a lot more on Chinese herbs and medicines, including all those very ecologically unfriendly food such as bird’s nest, tiger bone, bear bile, shark fins, snake, frog, etc. Unfortunately, such data are not available for testing the hypothesis.
Lastly, would it be due to other non-food-related reasons, such as monopolies? Interestingly, even though HK people is paying the highest food expenditure per person in the world, but it just accounts for about 15% of their total consumer expenditure. Even though it is almost doubled that of the US, as shown in Figure 4, it is still much lower than many other countries.
It is commonly believed that due to the high land price policy in Hong Kong, everything becomes very expensive because of the rent. Thus, even though food expenditure of HK people is the highest in the world, but it just accounts for about 15% of their total expenditure, because all other expenditures are very expensive, especially those directly related to land. For example, Hong Kong is notorious to be the most housing unaffordable city in the world. Demographia (2019) shows that the housing price to household income ratio in HK is almost 2.5 times of the 2nd highest (Figure 5). It is also well known that the cost of living in Hong Kong is one of the highest in the world. Thus, when people are living in such high stress and competitive environment, people are prone to eat more to relax and to satisfy the food craving due to stress. It explains why HK people would eat much more in both price, quantity and quality than many other parts of the world. This hypothesis seems to be the most tenable, but yet it is still hard to be tested empirically. If you have any good ideas on how to test it, please comment.
Yiu, C.Y. (2019) Meat Consumption Growth in Hong Kong is Alarming, Medium May 19, https://medium.com/@edwardyiu/meat-consumption-growth-in-hong-kong-is-alarming-872e46bf40ca
Our World in Data (2019) Food Prices, https://ourworldindata.org/food-prices.