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!