April 2017
Ag Insight

Ag Insight

Changes in eating habits add to health risks worldwide

Worldwide changes in eating habits and poor nutrition are contributing to a global rise in obesity and chronic noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, putting all income groups and ages, as well as both genders, at risk of these diseases.

Noncommunicable diseases are particularly problematic in developing countries, where they have been shown to negatively affect economic growth and development potential, and are more likely to result in premature deaths.

In recent years, a number of international meetings and reports have focused on promoting policies (1) to reduce the availability and consumption of saturated fatty acids, high-sodium prepared and processed foods, and added sugars in food and nonalcoholic beverages; and (2) to increase the availability, affordability and consumption of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods.

Although international organizations have encouraged healthier diets through pricing and income policies, their effectiveness could differ among countries by income levels and regional preferences, as well as within countries by gender and age subgroups.


Spending on food shows large variations


Despite often-heard complaints about high food costs, data shows U.S. consumers still spend less of their income on food than other nations.

Countries vary in how much their citizens spend on food at home as a share of consumption expenditure. Consumption expenditure includes all household spending, but not savings.

High-income countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have higher food spending in absolute terms, but their food-spending share is low. These two countries spent less than 10 percent of their consumption expenditure on food purchased from supermarkets and other food stores in 2015, while the share approached 50 percent in low-income countries such as Kenya.

Per capita calorie availability follows the reverse pattern. According to the most recent available data, United States per capita calorie availability was among the highest at 3,639 calories per day, while Kenya’s was estimated at only 2,206 calories.


Organic food sales, small but growing rapidly

While U.S. organic food sales still account for a relatively small share of total U.S. food sales, they have exhibited double-digit growth during most years since 2000 and the organic share has been growing rapidly.

In 2015, the Organic Trade Association estimated U.S. organic retail sales at $43.3 billion. Along with natural food supermarkets, restaurants and direct marketers, most major U.S. food retailers – including Costco, Walmart and Target – have expanded their organic food offerings in recent years.

Rapid expansion in consumer demand continues to provide opportunities for U.S. organic producers to enter high-value markets in the United States and other countries. Although this nation and the European Union are the two biggest markets for organic products, most countries have growing domestic markets.

Organic products have shifted from being a lifestyle choice for a small segment of consumers to being consumed at least occasionally by many Americans. In 2014, Gallup included questions on organics in its annual food consumption survey for the first time and found that 45 percent of Americans actively tried to include organic foods in their diets.

Fresh fruits and vegetables were still the top selling organic category, but organic sales in all the other food categories also grew from 2005 to 2015.

The U.S. organic dairy sector is the second largest category of organic sales, and organic dairy production is also expanding.

According to the Organic Trade Association, organic food purchases accounted for approximately 5 percent of total U.S. at-home food expenditures in 2015, more than double the share in 2005.

Since setting national organic standards in 2000, the United States Department of Agriculture has streamlined trade arrangements with multiple foreign governments to expand international markets for U.S. organic producers, and has also widened access for organic producers to risk management, conservation and other farm programs.


Orange juice shows large price drop


Average retail prices for orange juice were above long-term averages for 2015 and most of 2016, but a surprising drop in October brought prices back in line with prior years.

Retail prices increased because of declining domestic production that has been below long-term averages since 2013.

The United States also imports a large amount of orange juice with the majority coming from Brazil. Forecasts for Brazilian orange juice production are 30 percent higher for the 2016/17 marketing year compared to the prior year, and will likely lead to more robust exports from the country.

October 2016 imports were more than double the previous year and likely signaled to retailers an increase in supply for the upcoming year.


Soybean acreage increasing, could exceed corn

Don’t look now, but it’s possible that U.S. farmers will plant nearly as much, or perhaps even more, soybean acreage than corn this year.

The close acreage race comes as soybean prices in 2016 recorded their first increase in four years and have been up early this year as well. With soybeans now more profitable, 2017 may see the world’s largest grower harvest a record crop for the second consecutive year.

Corn remains the largest U.S. crop by volume and value, but farmers are saying they will increase their soybean acreage this year while cutting back on corn. Bloomberg Markets has predicted a 5.8 percent boost in land planted to soybeans, the third increase in four years, and an acreage total of 88.27 million.

Corn acreage could fall 3.6 percent to 90.77 million, the largest decline in three seasons, Bloomberg said.

However, an earlier survey by Farm Futures and AgriSource Inc. indicated farmers would plant more land with soybeans than corn for the first time since 1983. Based on responses from more than 2,000 growers in six Midwest states, the survey predicted an 8.1 percent increase in soybean acreage, totaling 90.2 million acres. Corn acreage was projected to be 89.7 million.

The increase in cash soybean prices has created the widest premium over corn in some 29 years. In addition to being cheaper to grow, soybeans also are benefiting from increased world demand for animal feed, cooking oil and biofuel.

Rising global consumption of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy has doubled the amount of soy-based meal in animal feed since 2000. Most of that growth occurred in China, the biggest pork producer, where soybean imports have doubled in the past eight years.


High fructose corn syrup usage declines


Domestic use of high fructose corn syrup has been in a general decline since 2006, according to figures from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.

With the exception of marketing year 2013/14 when there was a slight uptick, usage numbers generally leveled off since 2012/13. However, data from the 2015/16 marketing year indicates domestic HFCS use may still be trending lower.

HFCS is marketed in two primary compositions – HFCS-55 and HFCS-42. HFCS-55 contains 55 percent fructose and is used primarily in soft drinks, while HFCS-42, containing 42 percent fructose, is used in a broader range of goods, including other beverages and baked foods.

The long-term decline in HFCS consumption has primarily been the result of a reduction in HFCS-42. The cause of this decline has been driven by consumer demand for healthier alternatives, rising exports and greater availability of substitutes.