Who Eats The Most Spam?

Spam

Was there always a stand-by can of this in your family’s kitchen cupboard when you were growing up?

Spam. The primal meat mulch, the mother of all mystery meats. Radiocarbon dating has conclusively proven its existence to extend all the way back to 1937, but as to the origins of its name, nobody knows for sure. Not even Minnesota-based Hormel Food Cooperation, in whose cauldrons the pink sludge uttered its first squelch, can come up with a definitive version of the events leading up to its baptism.

So, does anyone today still eat this stuff? Yes, they do. My beloved and all-knowing database* pronounces Spam the world’s number three brand of canned/preserved meat products. (The top positions are occupied by a couple of Chinese interlopers).

In 2012, Spam accrued global retail value sales of US$848 million. That’s roughly equivalent to the GDP of Somalia, which, according to my sophisticated calculations, equates to ca. 370 million cans of Spam. But at least they still have Iman.

Canada and Mexico are not the biggest fans…

I would have expected sales of the quivering pork brick to be declining or at least stagnating, but to my great wonderment, the data reveals that this ain’t so: Global sales have been growing steadily by an average of 5% year-on-year over the past half a decade.

The biggest Spam consumer, no surprise there, is the US: 84% (US$708.8 million) of global revenues were generated in its homeland in 2012. Neighbouring Canada, curiously, only chomped through US$2.2 million worth of these congealed lumps of ground up pig flesh. The second biggest global market for Spam – and I’d never have guessed! – turns out to be South Korea, where it grossed US$87.3 million. Don’t ask me how they eat it there… I’ve no idea. Buried under a pile of kimchi? I had been in total awe of Korean food culture before I found out about this predilection for Spam…

In third place of the Spam aficionado charts we find the UK (US$25.5 million), followed by Australia (US$17.7 million). Mexico is another surprisingly reluctant market. Despite the fact that it is right next door to the US, and that it generally does a great job acting as a waste disposal unit for Uncle Sam’s Coke and burger surplus, Spam only garnered a paltry US$2.1 million there in 2012.

OK, enough of the figures. Let’s finish off with a somewhat amusing anecdote. A few years ago, I wrote an article, in which I boldly suggested that adding omega-3 fatty acids to canned meats would heighten their appeal and value, and might therefore safeguard the survival of a type of product that was gradually falling out of favour with consumers in many markets. (What can I say. It was late, I was tired. I get paid to come up with hare-brained propositions like that. The crazier and more far-fetched, the better, I’ve learnt that from experience).

Shortly after publication, I received an email from the publisher, informing me that none other than the very Sovereign of Spam, the Hormel Food Corporation, had absolutely loved the idea! I haven’t a clue whether they actually went through with this… but if anyone finds a can of Spam labelled “with added omega-3 to boost your brain power”, feel free to aim it at my head.

[*For data source, click here]

Post Script: The inspiration for this post came from my favourite food review blog, Food Junk. In a riveting exposé of a bottled soup called Clamato (“an invigorating mix of tomato juice, spices, and a touch of clam”), this fearless blogger included an off-the-cuff list of the world’s most mocked food products. Spam, of course, featured. In the ensuing comment discussion, he ventured the daring suggestion that he might, one day, sacrifice his Spam virginity to his WP followers and compose a detailed gustatory assessment on this legendary product

Is he seriously up for it? Food Junk, I hereby call upon you to put your cast iron guts – so carefully honed through years of industrial Japanese snack food throughput – to the acid test!

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41 thoughts on “Who Eats The Most Spam?

  1. susanissima

    On Kauai, HI, Spam is huge. One supermarket we went into had nearly half an aisle devoted to every variety of this beloved product. At a breakfast restaurant we stopped at it was the featured item with eggs and toast.

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  2. TBM

    Even though I am American and I now live in the UK, which I was surprised to see at number 3, I have never ever tried Spam. I’m still not tempted, not even after your brilliant Omega 3 brilliance late at night. for the record I hate baloney (which I assume is popular in the US), turkey, and pumpkin pie–Thanksgiving was my least favorite holiday. All I ate was mashed potatoes and stuffing.

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  3. Every Day Adventures in Asia

    Crazy eh?

    BTW Clamato juice is the key ingredient in Bloody Ceasar – I had several requests for this quintessentially Canadian cocktail while volunteering at the Green Room of the Winnipeg Folk Fest – many musicians were told they must try this on their visit!

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  4. pollyheath

    I don’t think I’ve ever met an American who liked SPAM (or admitted to it). Who are these mysterious people?!

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  5. Daniela

    People still eat this? I do see it in the supermarkets here, but I figure it has a shelf life to rival the apocalypse proof Twinkie and I’m always looking at the same can… But maybe not!
    I’ve never tried and seeing as I don’t eat sausages (childhood trauma of visiting a sausage factory) I would not touch this with a ten foot pole!

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  6. Expat Eye

    No spam in sight here! And I’ve never actually tasted it in my life – never want to either! I notice Ireland wasn’t on the list – very sensible people, the Irish… 😉

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      They have it… it’s just a bit further down on the list, due to there being so few Irish people. The figures were for total retail value sales, not per capita consumption…

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  7. americantaitai

    I was also going to guess Hawaii! I had never had spam before I met some friends in college who were from Hawaii, and had Spam Musubi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spam_musubi) for the first time in my life. And you know what? It was (and still is) delicious!!! The key is that the SPAM need to be fried up in some soy sauce or teriyaki sauce before it’s laid upon the furukake (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furikake) and white rice. Every time we goto Hawaii, I break down and have one.

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      1. Karolyn Cooper

        I tried Spam musubi in Hawaii, and I did NOT like it. Not one bit. But AmericanTaiTai is right, it is really popular in Hawaii. And I have a friend from Guam who loves Spam…which ought to be the beginning of a limerick… There was a young woman from Guam…

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  8. Food Junk

    This was fantastic. That first paragraph is amazing. I laughed out loud. “In whose cauldrons the pink sludge uttered its first squelch.” So foul! Well played.

    I guess I have to get some of this now, right? I’ll serve it up with a Bloody Caesar and a side of Clam Chowder Doritos.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I take my inspiration from you, but I doubt I’ll ever scale those literary heights… sigh.
      There’s been some interesting feedback on this Spam issue. Fried in soy sauce seems to be a winner.

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  9. Food Junk

    This was fantastic. That first paragraph was amazing. I laughed out loud. “In whose cauldrons the pink sludge uttered its first squelch.” So foul. Well played.

    I guess I have to try some this now, right? I’ll serve it with a Bloody Caesar and a side of Clam Chowder Doritos.

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  10. Lilly

    I absolutely adore your mind’s meandering-ways (tangential conversations r/t language acquisition?! yes, yes, yes…!), but try as I might to gloss over the subtle jabs at America and my own brief -but incredibly torrid- affair with American-bashing (especially pronounced as a young babe studying anthropology in Kenya), I can’t seem to shake this defensiveness that washes over me whenever I read any of your posts or comments about America. I understand your disdain for the crushing mindlessness and arrogance of Americanism, and I’m sure I’m not the first to say any of this, but I just don’t get why you typecast the entirety of America in this way. I’ve lived and worked in the organic food industry, both macro and micro, in the Pacific Northwest, Chicago, NYC, San Fran, New Orleans in the us (and currently reside in Berlin… temporarily in the middle of the u.s., however, visiting family), and it never fails to amaze me how vastly different parts of America FEEL, be it their attitudes/foodstuff/etc., and I know, i KNOW, why you comments like yours fit sensibly within these kinds of pieces, but why diminish the positives of any place with gross generalizations? I want to get it. I do. but I simply don’t see the point of continuing to exclusively associate processed foods with America when it’s currently manifesting its own unique system in multiple countries. I’m not trying to say or be another American saying or disavowing my homeland’s role in the spread of this crappy, crappy foodstuff, but please know that there are some of us who enjoy your blog, but hate having to once again defend our identities as Americans with such a limited scope of real, everyday American life (for some of us;-)). some of us expats don’t like constantly having to bash a country that doesn’t fit with whatever image someone who hasn’t been there feels like portraying it as.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Hi there. I’ve spent time in the US, regularly go back there, and, on the whole enjoy the food and its people (very much!). I use stereotypes as leverage for humour, that’s all.

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