Category Archives: Global Consumerism

Baby’s Got Whiff? Dip It In Perfume!

Spanish babies are a malodorous breed. To disguise their offspring’s offensive stench, Iberian mamas have a powerful weapon at their disposal: Half-litre bottles of “Baby Cologne”. You want proof? Here are some pics I took this very morning in my local supermarket:

lala

Lalal

“Low in alcohol”

Now, I must confess, I know nothing whatsoever about miniature humans or the fancy potions that are meant to maintain their olfactory acceptability. It was my Spanish teacher who first drew my attention to this cultural difference in paediatric hygiene a few years ago, when she told me about her frustrations in trying to hunt down such a product in North London chemists after the birth of her first daughter, reaping nothing but raised eyebrows and contemptuous glares.

I can’t get my head around the concept either. Surely, most people dunk their whelps in a warm frothy bath at the end of the day in order to remove suspect residues, probably employing some sort of industrial cleaning product which is already lightly perfumed. Why would anyone expose their little princess’s pristine peachiness to any more chemicals than are absolutely necessary? And chemicals they do contain:

lalla

Contains one third less alcohol than other brands, apparently. And a healthy dose of Tirdeceth-9 Octane… WHAT?!  Oh, but look, it’s soap-free!

lala

The question at the top reads, loosely translated, “What does it do for my baby?”, and then goes on to explain that the product lends an “original smell and wellbeing”, and that it “stimulates [the baby’s] senses owing to its special fragrance and your cuddles, which it loves so much”. I guess nobody would want to risk making physical contact with an untreated beast… Theres’s also a series of warnings, including “avoid contact with eyes”, “do not ingest”, “keep out of the reach of children”, “do not use near naked flames or heat sources”.

I’ve already professed my abject ignorance on the subject, but I thought I’d check some figures before hitting the ‘publish’ button. Owing to my work, which I do on rare occasions to finance my cake habit, I have access to a vast database detailling the sales of consumer goods by country, including toiletries and cosmetics. From this, I gather that “Baby and Child-specific Fragrances” are chiefly sold in six countries: Brazil, Spain, Mexico, France, Russia and Italy. This does seem to be a bit of a Latin thing…

Spain is the world’s second largest market (after Brazil), generating retail value sales of US$55.3 million in 2014, and Nenuco and Johnson’s (see my photos) are indeed the leading brands here in Spain. In annual per capita terms, Spanish consumers spent US$9.60 on its defenceless victims aged 0-11 years of age,  while Brazilian parents dowsed millions of tiny botties with US$11.50 worth of the stuff in 2014. Sales in the other countries I mentioned were rather minimal by comparison, hovering around the 1 dollar mark per child.*

So, people, do tell me, are babies sanitised in this way in your country…? Or do they prefer them au naturel?

 

[*For data source, click here]

 

 

Advertisements

The Unhealthy Truth About Food And Sex

There is an intimate link between food and gender, but it’s probably not what you’re thinking. Forget perky asparagus, squelchy oysters, slippery figs and anything else imbued with folklore or aphrodisiacal connotations. It’s much more basic than that:

Salad, fruit, vegetables, smoothies, chocolate, Baileys: Women’s food/drink

Steak, sausages, pork pie, burgers, potatoes, vindaloo, beer: Men’s food/drink

As absurd as this ad hoc dichotomy may seem, it presents an eternal headache for public health organisations and food marketers alike.

Chocolate's for chicks, unless EXPLICITLY stated otherwise....

Chocolate’s for chicks, unless EXPLICITLY stated otherwise….

I vividly recall an episode of The Apprentice (UK edition) that aired well over a decade ago, in which a corporate scion, tasked with evaluating a fresh-faced crop of budding executives, barked at a softly-spoken, young Asian candidate: “Go and eat some red meat!”.

Meanwhile, Japan is experiencing a well-publicised social movement, in which young men renounce the traditional male role. Instead of turning into slavish “salarymen” chained to their corporate desks 16+ hours a day, they go for jobs they actually enjoy, actively cultivate the more sensitive and empathetic sides of their personalities, and spend their free time shopping and socialising with their (strictly platonic, ahem…) girlfriends. These guys are referred to as “herbivore men” (as opposed to their traditional “carnivore men” counterparts). [Here is an article on this fascinating subject, if you’re interested in global/national social trends]

Is he less of a guy...

Is he less of a guy…

...than that one...?

…than that one…?

One fact that I’ve always found baffling is that average male life expectancy consistently trails behind that of women. In most countries, the difference is around three years. Why is that?!

Not only do men have much more power than women, but, save for a set of precariously vulnerable, dangly goolies, their bodies are far less complicated than those of females. I mean, just take into account the ravages of pregnancy, followed by the potential damage (including death!) that can occur when pushing out multiple ten-pound sprogs, then having your life energy sucked out of your mammaries for months on end – men suffer none of these physical tribulations. Putting up some shelves at the weekend, rummaging around underneath rusty cars, and, perhaps, a few drunken pub brawls in their youth… I dare say, it doesn’t quite compare.

As I see it, the reason why men pop their clogs so early essentially boils down to this: They just don’t look after themselves. And eating some green stuff every once in a while plays a major part in this. They consider their bodies to be “machines”, obliged to yield to their will. Every warning sign emanating from within, like a twinge of chest pain or bleeding from the eyeballs, is staunchly ignored, until it’s way too late, until no amount of roasted aubergines on a bed of arugula will save them.

Unlike women, men are under far less pressure to maintain a healthy body weight. While an overweight woman is constantly reminded of her unsightliness, a man is allowed to parade his paunch around with pride. In Bavaria (where I’m from) reigns the popular saying, “A man without a beer belly is a cripple”.

Men don’t diet. If anything, they work out. Or, failing that (as most of them do), they watch a  bunch of young louts kicking a pig’s bladder about.

Diet CokeNearly a decade ago, in 2005, The Coca Cola Company came up with a stroke of marketing genius, touted as its first “new” product launch in 22 years: Coke Zero.

I’ve put “new” in quotes, because, as we all know, the company’s sugar-free cola has been around for donkey’s years, in the guise of Diet Coke (or Coca-Cola Light, as it is marketed in Europe and elsewhere). However, it is downright impossible to sell anything bearing the words “diet” and/or “light” to a bloke. Heaven forbid!

Coke Zero, aimed squarely at the boys, has been a roaring success. In 2013, 3.7 billion litres of the stuff were guzzled up globally, and sales are still on the up, while those of Diet Coke are in dismal decline.

Even in Korea...

Even in Korea…

Another food that men just wouldn’t touch for fear of their chest hair falling out is yoghurt. Yoghurt – some of which is *pink*, for Pete’s sake! – is a girlie food, fair and square. Or, rather, that’s how it was until the still fairly recent kick-off of the “high protein trend”. (If it hasn’t hit your corner of the world yet, don’t worry, it will.)

The high protein trend is the biggest thing in the US’s packaged food market right now, and it all started on the back of Greek yoghurt, which, due to how it is processed, contains slightly more protein than standard yoghurt. And since protein = muscle = manliness, clever marketers seized this golden opportunity to convince yoghurt-spurning males that a pot of fermented dairy was every bit as macho as a steak.

Dannon's (Danone in Europe) Oikos yoghurt promotion

Dannon’s (Danone in Europe) Oikos Greek yoghurt promotion

Powerful Yogurt

As always, I’d really love to hear from my readers – are there any foods or drinks in your part of the world that suffer from a cultural gender bias? Are the words “high protein” spreading like small pox over all manner of food packaging in your local supermarket? What are the male vs. female attitudes to (healthy) eating in your (host) culture? Any thoughts on and around this topic are greatly appreciated 🙂

Food Industry Ads – It’s A Parallel Universe!

You may think that, after trawling food industry websites for many years to earn my crust, by now I’d be desensitised to how these folks conduct their advertising, much like a seasoned undertaker, who has long since stopped flinching at the sight of the mangled corpses that pass through his premises. After all, it’s business-to-business communication replete with technical details aimed at food technologists rather than at the end consumer. However, since I’m also a consumer of food, I can’t completely switch off that part of my brain, and I thought it might be fun to share a few precious examples with you…

I bet you’ve always wanted one of these:

Breadometer

Those operators really can’t be trusted, can they? And hidden depths are clearly NOT appreciated….

Oh, what could be more heavenly than the smell of freshly baked bread or the buttery doughiness of croissants still warm from the oven… And isn’t comforting to know that there’s somebody behind the scenes, who worries about all this stuff:

Bakery IngredientsIgnorance is bliss, as they say. We definitely DON’T want to know the secret. EVER! Regarding the “friendly labelling”, there’s an explanatory rant coming up. Hold on to your seats. And your queasy stomachs.

But before we get to that, let me ask you this: what makes marshmallow so delectably fluffy and chewy at the same time? Sugar mixed with beaten egg whites in optimum proportions, right? Trouble is, them eggs is expensive – we desperately need something… erm… “innovative” to please our cost-conscious clientele.  Ingredients supplier Wacko Wacker has just the ticket:

Let me guess... Polyfilla? Polystyrene? Recycled upholstery!

Let me guess… Polyfilla? Polystyrene with a dash of added plasticiser? Recycled upholstery!

CleanLabel

What the heck is a “Clean Label”, I hear you ponder…? Does it involve some hapless trainee scouring the ketchup splodges off the front of the bottle with a soft toothbrush before he puts it on the shelf…? Not quite. The “clean label trend”, as it’s known to industry insiders, is a topic that could probably fill the British Library twice over. I shall attempt to illustrate briefly.

The whole shenanigans started nearly two decades ago, when it slowly dawned on the industry that consumers didn’t find terms like “dioctyl sodium sulphosuccinate” and “butylated hydroxyanisole” on food packages all that appetising.

Essentially, the mission was (and still is!) to replace anything that sounds remotely like a “chemical” with something that Martha Stewart would keep in her pantry.

Sometimes, ingredient substitutions are required to produce a sparkling clean label, but a lot of the time, it’s simply a word game. I mean, why call something “hydrolysed starch” when “potato starch” will do nicely? Or is it “Monosodium glutamate” (MSG) that’s scaring the punters off your products in droves? No worries, just switch to “yeast extract”, which is virtually identical and does the same job.

RadiationSign“E-numbers”, in particular, are known for striking fear into European consumers’ hearts. They’ve been suspected of giving kids autism and poor ol’ granny pancreatic cancer, not to mention throttling the life out of strutting Frenchmen’s sperm… the list of their E-vil doings is endless. Thing is, most E-numbers are, in fact, harmless substances, and so manufactures have simply reverted to calling them by their first names, like vitamin C (instead of E300) and calcium (aka E170). Label space on food packages is at a premium and E-numbers provided a convenient short hand, but the mood has turned, and if, as a food manufacturer, you’re still bent on sticking to them, you may as well be slapping the radiation warning sign on your chocolate biscuit packets for all the good it’ll do your sales.

As for colourings and flavourings, a great big slew of them can just be referred to as “natural”, no need to give an E-number or a long-winded chemical name. The label will be clean, and everybody will be happy. Luckily, the average shopper doesn’t realise that you can make strawberry flavouring out of wood chips and still call it “natural” without breaking any laws. Nobody needs to know that the flavours don’t come from actual fruits.

Yum! Some days, my pee looks like this first thing in the morning...

Just as natural as the first slosh of morning pee…

You may be left with the impression that the food industry views you, the consumer, very much like this:

Meatpreservation

Trusting, infantile and clueless.

But at least they’ve a sense of humour about it…

And there was me thinking I was the Queen Of Sad Puns! I think I've been well and truly usurped...

And there was me thinking I was the Queen Of Sad Puns! I think I’ve been well and truly usurped…

 

 

 

Who Eats The Most Potatoes?

Germans have a reputation for being big on potatoes. But is it deserved? We shall find out…

As for me, personally, I can take them or leave them. Probably my least favourite are boiled potatoes of the “mealy” kind, which taste of nothing and clog up your windpipe. Floury potatoes are only ever palatable with lashings of butter and/or cheese, preferably mashed. Potato crisps, chips, fries, etc … I will eat them if they’re put in front of me, but it’s not something I’d ever crave.

This is the REAL thing

This is the REAL thing. Except for being boil-in-the-bag, that is… 😉

However ambivalent I might feel about spuds and potato products in general, I do have one big weaknesses: Kartoffelknödel. For those unfamiliar with them, they are the big brother of the Italian gnocchi. (Gnocchi have been, in fact, my fail safe substitute in foreign lands). It’s the texture that does it for me. They are like soft, chewy, springy putty. Gravy (there HAS to be gravy) sticks to Kartoffelknödel like iron filings to a magnet. Kartoffelknödel are a common accompaniment to German meat dishes, like pork roast and Sauerbraten.

Eastern Europe is Potato Crazy
OK, let’s get down to some figures. Which countries’ citizens consume the most fresh potatoes? I must admit, it was somewhat of a surprise to find Germany so frightfully low down on the list with just 22kg per capita in 2012. In 2007, it was still 30kg. Actually, Germany is very close to the global average of 23kg, but global consumption is slowly on the way up rather than declining. The reason for Germany’s dwindling fresh potato intake is the steadily growing popularity of processed foods, including processed potato products. Nobody wants to buy a bag of fresh potatoes anymore. I mean, they need preparation, perish the thought! Also, Germans scoff a lot of pasta and, increasingly, rice, displacing spuds as the national carbohydrate staple.

NewPotatoes

Really… you eat them like THAT?!?

As an aside – and things may have changed in the two+ decades since I left Germany – but eating a potato with the skin still on was totally unheard of back then. When I moved to the UK in the early 90’s, I was confronted with concept of “new potatoes” and baked potatoes. It was also the first time I’d seen people gobble up slices of (gasp!) unpeeled cucumber in their salads and sandwiches. I had clearly landed on an island inhabited by Pleistocene heathens. To my great relief, they did pull the skins off their bananas before biting into them, so not all was lost, as far as I could tell.

Back to the stats: Trumping the fresh potato consumption charts is the Ukraine, with 143kg per person in 2012. Now, this sounds like some serious potato load, but it’s an underestimate, because potatoes grown on allotments/datchas etc, destined for private consumption, which never enter the formal market place, are excluded from these figures.  Poland managed 116kg, and Russia 70kg. Incidentally, Peru, birthplace of the tuber, stood at 79kg per head.

Irish spud intake almost pales into insignificance by comparison, with 47kg and a falling tendency, but Ireland is still ahead of the UK’s 30kg. The US, shock horror, barely musters half of that! But we all know why: fries.

Yes, it was once a potato...

Screwed-up potatoes…

Next, let’s look at frozen processed potatoes. This includes potato chips for oven baking, potato waffles, croquettes, etc. The UK leads world per capita consumption with 21kg in 2013, followed by Australia and Canada (both 19kg), and the US (15kg).

Where potato crisps/chips are concerned, the surprise global leader turns out to be Norway, with a per capita intake of just over 4kg per head in 2013. Hot on its heels are the UK, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, followed by the US and Spain. In Spain, a small plate of “free” potato chips is usually served with drinks in places that can’t be bothered to do proper tapas. It’s always a total disappointment for me 😦

Anyway, let’s hear it from everybody else – what’s your fave potato product that you couldn’t live without?

Who Eats The Most Butter? And The Most Cream?

Aaahh butter… and cream! So right and so wrong all at the same time…

Growing up in Germany, I was reared on liberal lashings of both. Two kinds of butter enjoyed permanent residency in our fridge: ‘sweet cream’ butter and lactic butter (made from sour cream).

butterbrotOven-fresh sourdough bread, crust still crispy, slathered with a lavish layer of butter… what could be more delicious?! Unless you’re my dad, who liked to cut himself half-inch thick slices of butter,  and eat them without bread.

But those blissful days just couldn’t last forever. In the early 90’s, I moved to the UK, where I encountered the sacrilege that is salted butter. The salt, I’m convinced, was meant to disguise the fact that it was half rancid.

A baffling phenomenon, especially as I remembered my Dad often buying Irish butter in Germany, and that tasted great. I was at a total loss to understand the UK butter debacle. Right next door, there was good butter (ditto across the Channel in France), and English people were putting up with candle wax dragged through sweaty armpits?

From the 2000’s onwards, thank God, the islanders started to see the light, and a better selection of unadulterated varieties started appearing on UK supermarket shelves.

ClottedCream

Scone topped with jam and clotted cream – heaven!

Moving onto cream. Well, on my planet, ice cream and cakes were not considered complete without a tower of sumptuous whipped cream artfully erected on top. In the UK, they would just pour it, unwhipped, over their desserts. Fine, I could live with that. Despite their beastly botched butter, they had some pretty good cream, including this most marvellous of concoctions called clotted cream. It tastes like a mixture of butter and cream, and it’s way more delicious than that description makes it sound.

But then… about a decade ago, it all started to go horribly wrong. ‘Cream’ dispensed from spray cans took over in UK restaurants and cafes. Now, what’s in those cans is not cream, but some aerated type of white sludge, emulsified within an inch of its life. (Is it even still dairy?!) Within three minutes of hitting the plate, it melts into an insipid puddle that looks like cum. They serve this aberration in Spain as well. Sigh.

To my great relief, when I was back in Germany this summer, I found that ice cream and cake were still accompanied with what I recognise as the ‘real stuff’ – dense-textured, full-bodied creeeeeeeamy cream, whisked into a shape that holds up in all weathers as it slowly glides from your spoon down your throat and directly into your arteries.

So, who does indulge the most*?
The world’s top butter consumer is Denmark with 5.7kg per capita in 2013, followed – oh yes! – by Germany with 4.9kg. Here’s the rest of the top ten: Finland, Austria, Belarus, Azerbaijan (really??), France, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Georgia.

The UK is in 16th place with 2.5kg, and the US is even further down with 2.0kg. Spain managed a paltry 0.4kg. (Spanish butter, by the way, is awful.) New Zealand’s butter consumption (2.6 kg) is double that of Australia’s.

On the cream front, Sweden leads, slurping and spooning down 11.1kg in 2013 per capita, followed by Belarus with 10.3kg. In third place, we have Canada, with 9.1kg, which, curiously, is far ahead of the US’s 4.0kg. Can anyone explain this…? Next in line are Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Finland, Norway, Estonia and Lithuania. The UK and Spain trail far behind with just 1.7kg and 1.2kg, respectively.

Well, people, butter or cream or both?! Go on, spill all your dark, delicious dairy fat indulgence secrets…

[*For data source, click here]

Who Eats The Most Mayonnaise, Ketchup, Mustard?

Mayo, ketchup, mustard – they all have their place. Sometimes they can be found in amiable unison, lubricating the innards of a nice juicy burger in fairly equal measures, but the uptake of these condiments shows considerable variation around the globe.

Personally, I’m not overly keen on mayonnaise – give me sour cream instead any day – but it is a popular condiment in Germany, where liberal lashings of it are added to potato salad, for example.  Germany is also infamous for ‘Pommes mit Mayo’ (Chips/fries with mayonnaise). It’s at least as popular, if not more so, than the ketchup alternative.  You can get Pommes mit Mayo from any burger van, unstylishly served in either a paper cone or a cardboard tray.

The "Mayo Potato" pizza, offered by Domino's in Japan, alongside the Avocado Shrimp and Giant Quattro, also liberally doused in the stuff

The “Mayo Potato” pizza, offered by Domino’s in Japan, alongside the mayo-laden Avocado Shrimp and Giant Quattro

As for who eats the most mayonnaise, if anyone had asked me before checking*, I’d have plonked for the Japanese being the highest per capita consumers. I’ve seen them deploy this condiment, seemingly without any scruples, on most types of food, and especially on those that are not traditionally Japanese.

But I was wrong. Japan is 20th down the list! It’s the Russians who are the true kings of mayo, clogging up their arteries with 5.1 kg of the stuff in 2013 per capita. Japan managed a comparatively humble 1.5kg, the UK just a smidgen more with 1.6kg, while Germany is quite a long way down with just 1.0 kg, less than half of Dutch consumption levels.

Across the Atlantic, 1.9kg are set to slide down Canadian and US consumers’ gullets this year. Australians and New Zealanders won’t even hit the 1kg mark.

So, led by Russia, the top ten of mayo loving nations is dominated by Eastern European nations in the following order: Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, Belgium, Estonia, Latvia, Chile, Netherlands, Poland.

In case anyone’s wondering, the world’s leading mayo brand is Hellmann’s (by Unilever), followed by Kraft.

In the Ketchup stakes, Canada leads with 3.1kg per head, followed by Finland (3kg), Sweden (2.7kg), the UK (2.4kg), Norway (2.3kg), Austria and the US (both 2.2kg). Russians aren’t nearly as fond of ketchup as they are of mayonnaise, squirting just 1.4kg onto their bangers. And yes, of course Heinz is the world’s leading brand, who else?! Second in line, though, is Kagome, a Japanese brand, which I hadn’t expected. Must be big in the Asia Pacific region.

Händlmaier's - Germany's most popular sweet mustard brand

Händlmaier’s – Germany’s most popular sweet mustard brand

As for mustard, Slovakia sports the most enthusiastic uptake with 1.6kg per capita in 2013. The Czech Republic is in second place (1.2kg), and France ranks third (1.0 kg). At least Germany features in the top ten. We do love our mustard, and we have tons of different regional varieties. A very sweet type of  mustard (as sweet as chutney), for example, is served with several traditional meat products and sausages, including the famous Weisswurst.

Weisswurst with mustard - A Bavarian classic. Which I don't really like :(

Weisswurst with mustard – A Bavarian classic. Which I don’t really appreciate 😦

Are you more of a mayo, a mustard or a ketchup person? Are there any weird food combos featuring any of these in your country or region? I’d so love to hear about that!

[*For data source, click here]

Follow me on Twitter

Who Drinks The Most Wine?

Wine is in the top five on the interminable list of things that I should know about but don’t.
Working class Germans are just not wine drinkers, and so when I grew up, I learned that there were three kinds of wine: Sour (all German wines fall into this category, my parents would not have touched those with a barge pole), drinkable (only sweet wines would fall into this category, and they would most likely be of Italian origin), and fizzy (consumed only once a year on New Year’s Eve, and it had to be as sweet as lemonade. Champagne would have been relegated to the “sour” category).

I had a little more exposure to wine after I’d moved to the UK in the 90s. OK, it’s not exactly a country of wine connoisseurs either, but the supermarkets, even back then, offered a fairly wide range of wines from all over the world, including German ones. The concept that some German wines could be considered “good”, was a total revelation to me and took some getting used to.

Admittedly, I didn’t learn that much more about wine during my two decades in the UK, but I internalised one golden rule: when bringing a bottle with you to a social gathering (of people you were fond of), you should not spend any less than £6 on a red or £4 on a white, otherwise it was likely to taste nasty.

Now I’m in Spain, and they certainly seem to know their wine. The emphasis being on the word their, because they don’t seem to be familiar with anything else but their homegrown vino. I’d go as far as to venture that the average Spaniard is not even aware that countries like Chile and Australia also make the stuff, and that some of it ain’t half bad.

I do drink more wine now than I did before, it’s pretty much standard issue when having a meal out, but I’d struggle to I exceed 6 glasses a month. Totally pathetic, I know…

Tinto De Verano - A Spanish summer favourite. It's kind of like Sangria, but with less alcohol and far more refreshing

Tinto De Verano – A Spanish summer favourite. It’s kind of like Sangria, but with less alcohol and far more refreshing. I love it!

Now let’s look at the figures*. Owing to sheer population size, China is the world’s largest market for wines. Of the 28.6 billion litres guzzled globally in 2012, China downed 4.2 billion litres, the USA 3 billion litres, Italy and France 2.5 billion litres each, and, to my utmost surprise, Germany pops up in fifth place with 2.1 billion litres.

But what’s most interesting, I’m guessing, is per capita consumption levels. Instead of giving you the per head consumption for every man, woman and child as usual, I’ve selected per capita intake from legal drinking age onwards.

So, Portugal leads, with 51.5 litres per head in 2012, followed by Italy (47.6l), Switzerland (really???) (42.6l), France (38.7l), Austria (37.7l), Argentina (35.3l), Belgium (33l), Greece (31.7l), Netherlands (30.7l) and Germany is in tenth place with 29.9 litres.

There are always a few surprises, and Spain ranking 13th with just 25.8 litres was definitely one of them. I mean, that’s barely a thimbleful ahead of Ireland and the UK, with 25.1 and 23.3 litres, respectively.

The US managed a paltry 13.4 litres, and Chile 16.6 litres, which isn’t very much, considering both are major producers. Canada did marginally better with 18.3 litres, but at least they don’t pride themselves in growing the stuff, as far as I’m aware.

OK, that’s enough stats. I don’t want to be responsible for sending anyone’s head spinning without even having indulged in a lovely glass (or six) of red.

So, what’s it for you? Red or white? Or beer…?

[* For data source, click here]