Tag Archives: Consumer behaviour

Who Consumes The Most Energy Drinks? And Are They Dangerous…?

Energy drinks are not only the fastest growing soft drinks category, but also the most picked on. Every month there seems to be another news item about some hapless kid popping its clogs after guzzling fifteen cans of Manic Mongrel or whatever the manufacturers chose to christen their sugary brew of chemicals.

Just this month, EFSA (the European Food Safety Authority) published a report stating that “12% of adult Europeans consume energy drinks at ‘chronic’ levels”.

Do people really drink that much of this stuff?

Consumption highest on Red Bull’s home turf
According to the commercial database I use for my work, global consumption of energy drinks shot up from 842 million litres in 1998 to…wait for it… 5.6 billion litres in 2012. Whoah.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Austria, home of Red Bull, led the global per capita consumption charts with 7.6 litres in 2012, followed by Ireland and the UK (both 6.3 litres), Switzerland (6 litres), the US (5.4 litres) and Australia (5.3 litres).

This may not sound like an awful lot, when compared to cola carbonates, of which Americans consume, on average, 82 litres per head in one year, Brits 52 litres and Canadians 63 litres.

Boys just want to be cool
It has to be taken into consideration, though, that cola drinks are widely consumed by both sexes and virtually all age groups. Energy drinks, on the other hand, have one core target group: young males.

Officially, the target demographic for these beverages is often delineated as ‘males aged between 18 and 29’, but in reality, my guess is that the age group over which they exert their maximum appeal is more like 13-35.

Marketers, who know how this segment of the human species works, have gone to great lengths to make these concoctions synonymous with ‘cool’ sports, like snowboarding and speedboat racing. Red Bull, in particular, takes the utmost care to sponsor only the ‘right’ kinds of events in line with its image. Extreme skydiving (remember Felix Baumgartner’s 39 kilometre supersonic freefall jump last October??) reflects its daredevil adrenaline fuelled values, but it won’t put its name to anything slightly ‘base’ and messy like boxing.

Incidentally, Red Bull, which is the world’s leading energy drinks brand, has never produced a single drink. It’s a purebred marketing company established by a guy called Dietrich Mateschitz for the sole purpose of lining his pockets by hyping a beverage that is made by someone else. (Mateschitz is worth a handsome US$7.1 billion, according to Forbes).

A warning label will help …NOT.
As to whether energy drinks are harmful or not is a a question easily answered by employing common sense. Without even having to go into the purported properties of other ‘magic’ ingredients commonly featured in energy drinks (for example taurine, an amino acid), caffeine, like alcohol and nicotine, is a poison. If you have too much of it, you can, uhm, poison yourself. Fancy that!

This concoction, said to be as strong as 3 Red Bulls, was pulled from retail shelves in the US in 2007

This concoction, said to be as strong as 3 Red Bulls, was pulled from retail shelves in the US in 2007

Unlike alcohol and nicotine, it’s hard to push for age restrictions on caffeinated beverages, for the obvious reason that coffee, tea, cola and chocolate all contain caffeine or compounds similar to caffeine, and that these are widely consumed by virtually all age groups.

A can of an energy drink isn’t any more lethal than a cup or two of coffee. What makes energy drinks potentially dangerous is their image, which is liable to inspire competitive hare-brainedness in boys along the lines “I can drink more of this vile stuff than you”.

The other danger spot is that energy drinks are often used as mixers for alcoholic drinks. According to the aforementioned EFSA report, 48% of 10-14 year-olds consume them that way. Energy drinks counteract the tiredness that usually comes with drinking alcohol, and so people may end up drinking more than they otherwise would.

Some want to see warning labels on energy drinks, but come on! Warning labels only make them more attractive to their target group. Personally, I think that the only way to curb consumption is to make it mandatory to sell them in pink cans. Preferably embellished with pictures of kittens. With sparkly bows on.

A growing army of pink cans is meant to rope in a generally disinclined female demographic. Maybe it's the lack of kittens...

A growing army of pink cans is meant to rope in a generally disinclined female demographic. Maybe it’s the lack of kittens…

[For data source, click here]


Who Smokes the Most Cigarettes? And What Are The Attitudes To Smoking In Different Countries?

Ah, smoking… a topic that should provide plenty of fodder for an animated discussion. I’m going to off start with a handful of statistics, followed by some observations and anecdotes about smoking culture in the few countries that I have direct experience of.

Eastern Europeans smoke the most
OK, numbers first. The market research company I do most of my freelance work for also keeps tabs on global cigarette sales. And even though I’ve no legitimate business rummaging around in there, I do, on occasions, wheedle my way into that part of the database, goaded by lurid fascination.

It tells me that global per capita consumption of cigarettes stood at 833 in 2011. That’s individual sticks, not packets. Eastern Europeans are the heaviest smokers – Belarus leads the pack (pardon the pun) with 3,080 cigarettes per head, followed by Serbia (2,946) and Russia (2,624). In fact, there are only two countries in the top ten that are not Eastern European, namely Greece and South Korea.

For added context, the four countries I’m going to be referring to in my observations below fare as follows: Spanish consumers racked up 1,378 cigs per head in 2011 (there is a steep downward trend, in 2006 it was 2,127), Germans
1,037, Americans 959 and Brits came in below the global average with 720.

Never make assumptions…
As to attitudes to smoking in various countries, I’m not planning to launch into an all-angles considered assessment, I’m just going to relay a couple of  anecdotes and some personal observations. I realise that your take on things may well differ considerably from mine.

In January 2011, Spain banned smoking in all bars and restaurants. The Spanish have a reputation for not giving a toss about regulations pertaining to behaviour in public spaces, but, much everyone's surprise, people are actually sticking to this one. I took this picture in a local cafe, with the 'No Smoking' sign neatly perched on top of a cigarette vending machine.

In January 2011, Spain banned smoking in all bars and restaurants. The Spanish have a reputation for not giving a toss about regulations pertaining to behaviour in public spaces, but, much to everyone’s surprise, people are actually sticking to this one.
I took this picture in a local cafe, with the ‘No Smoking’ sign neatly perched on top of a cigarette vending machine.

In 2011, at Christmas time, when I’d only been in Spain for a couple of months, a kind new friend invited me along to a pre-Christmas dinner at her house. There were about a dozen of us, and once the introductions were out of the way, one of the guests asked the hostess whether she minded him smoking in her living room. She told him to go ahead. When we took our seats at the table, I carefully chose the chair farthest away from him.

I needn’t have bothered. As soon as the desserts arrived, six people lit up in complicit unison. I sat there, watching what was happening in complete and utter incredulity. I also remember being slightly bemused by my own reaction – I had just assumed that this was no longer a socially acceptable behaviour in the ‘civilised world’.

I had really wanted to stay for the whole evening. All the people were lovely and interesting, and they were making a star effort to engage me in conversation, which I really appreciated, considering my quite limited Spanish conversation skills. One person smoking would have been bearable, but the combined fumes of six people puffing one after the other made my eyes water and my lungs burn. So, with much regret, I took off early.

Cultural differences and changing attitudes

I think my bias is clear: I’m no great fan of smoking. I grew up in a smoke-filled house, and there was no escape from it. My father, in particular, would regularly walk into my bedroom where he kept his tool cupboard, fag* ablaze.

Back in the 80s and early 90s, when I still lived in Germany, it was common for people to smoke while sitting at their office desks. When I moved to the UK in the early 90s, I immediately noticed that there was no smoking in the workplace.

And another thing caught my attention: Like in Spain, in Germany, smoking was (and still is) fairly evenly distributed throughout the socioeconomic classes, while in the UK (and, in my albeit much more limited experience, the US) educated middle class people rarely smoke. If they do, they usually resort to ‘stealth’ tactics, i.e. they smoke in their yards or on the balcony rather than inside their homes. This trend of not smoking in one’s living quarters also appears to have also taken hold in Germany in recent years.

A Spanish friend of mine told me an anecdote about a family visit to the US several years ago. As she and some other visitors got into her (American) sister-in-law’s car, her sister-in-law said, “Please don’t smoke in my car”. This struck my friend as a terribly rude request to impose on one’s guests. She laughs about this now, as she wouldn’t really want people to be smoking in her house or car either, but in Spain this is still quite commonly done and accepted.

If anyone wants to share their thoughts and experiences on this topic, I would love to hear them. But, please, let’s not descend to violently bashing smokers.

*) For the American reader contingent: “fag” is a British slang term for “cigarette”.


[For data source, click here]

Who Drinks the Most Coffee… And The Most Tea?

Coffee. What would be be without it, I ask you? Comatose heaps of dislodged neurons.
And without a civilised cup of tea? Cavemen pulling each other’s entrails out with chewed up sticks.

So, I went to find out just how hooked we are on our favourite hot beverages by consulting the commercial database once more, and, as it turns out, we imbibed close to 970 billion cups of coffee, and… wait for it… almost 1.5 trillion cups of tea, globally in 2012.

It’s official: Scandinavians are coffee addicts
I wouldn’t have guessed it, but it’s Norway leading the coffee drinking world, with 2,196 cups gulped per capita in 2012, followed by the Netherlands (1,679 cups), Finland (1,208 cups) and Sweden (1,158 cups). Germany is in fifth place with 1,032 cups.

Italians, despite having the reputation of taking their coffee adoration very seriously, only managed 584, and the US came in at 348 cups. UK mustered just 230, which shouldn’t really surprise anyone, known as they are for being the world’s most avid tea guzzlers. We shall find out shortly whether they live up to their reputation…

The above refers to total coffee (fresh & instant combined), but who drank the most instant? It’s New Zealand, with 353 cups a year in 2012 (and just 146 cups of fresh coffee!).

A lovely cuppa :) Pic taken by a British friend, of course!

A lovely cuppa 🙂 Pic taken by a British friend, of course!

So, who is the world’s number one tea drinking nation…?
OK, here’s the bit you’ve been waiting for. Do the Brits really drink the most tea?? Nope. Not by a long shot. It’s Turkish consumers who are the most partial to a cuppa, slurping 1,688 cups per head in 2012. Next on the list are Iran, Morocco and Uzbekistan, all managing over a thousand cups per annum.

UK intake is a comparatively paltry 619 cups. Utterly scandalous, this. I feel deceived. The Russians are ahead of them, and so are the good people of Ireland, New Zealand and Pakistan.

US consumers, if anyone’s wondering, are clearly not big fans of tea, managing just 160 cups.


[For data source, click here]

Which Countries Consume The Most Alcohol? And Who Drinks What?

I don’t usually write about alcoholic drinks – my specialist field being packaged food, fresh food and non-alcoholic beverages – but I suddenly found myself intrigued to see which nations guzzled the most booze and what type. Here is what I found in the database:

Overall, the Czech Republic consumes the most alcoholic drinks, downing 173 litres per capita per annum.

[Note: All figures are per capita, retail (drink purchased in supermarkets, corner shops, etc) combined with on-trade consumption (bars, clubs, restaurants, etc), at legal drinking age. All data refers to 2012 consumption levels.]

Next in line are Slovenia, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Austria, Poland, Belgium and Finland.

And now let’s look at national tipple preferences in more detail. A nice cool beer after a long day at work is not quite the same as downing six glasses of vodka, even though what slips down the throat may be equal in quantity, i.e. in terms of liquid volume.

The Czech Republic tops the beer consumption charts, which explains the previous statistic. Czech people may be in love with their beer, but at least they are not in the front line of the ‘drinking hard’ league. Czech per capita beer consumption amounted to 144 litres in 2012, while Germany mustered 107 litres, Ireland 105 litres and Belgium 87 litres, just to give you some comparison with other beer worshipping nations.

Ireland and the UK lead, no surprises here. Finland’s next in line. It’s worth noting, perhaps, that cider hasn’t caught on much in Eastern Europe. Neither the Czechs nor the Poles care for it in the slightest, it seems. Estonia and Lithuania quite like it… I guess it’s trickled down from Finland.

I had my money on Russia, but my sure-fire expectations have been well and truly dashed. South Koreans(!) knock back the most dizzying quantities of spirits in the whole wide world, a whopping 25 litres! Next in line are Belarus, Estonia, and finally, here comes Russia with a paltry 12 litres, just under half of what our comparatively dainty South Koreans can handle. This must surely be a most devastating kick in the morose Russian soul, and even more so as they fail to emerge as numero uno in the vodka gulping charts, where it’s Belarus in the lead racking up 16 litres – six whole litres more than Russia, which finds itself relegated to third place! Estonia is runner up, Poland occupies fourth place… well, I will refrain from listing the entire vodka belt. We’ve still got a lot of booze to get through, so cling onto your seats and your livers.


France led with 2 litres in 2012, followed by Uruguay, Spain and the US.

But here comes a real shocker: in fifth place, we find the United. Arab. Emirates.

Yes, you read that right. A Muslim country features in the top five of the global whisky per capita consumption charts. Oh my. The UK claims 8th place. Scotland is not broken out in the data, unfortunately, otherwise they may have been top of the tree. At least that’s what I’m hoping, it would be a dismal national disgrace for them otherwise.

Phillippines. Baffled…? So am I!

Switzerland in the lead, followed by Russia.

Ah now. Here everything’s nice and predictable. At least to start with. Portugal crowns the wine rack, with 43 litres,  Italy and France nipping at its heels. But then it gets weird. Slovenia is in third place and Switzerland fourth with 38 and 36 litres respectively, 47 and Spain, which I had expected to occupy a top five slot, lags miles behind in 18th place with an embarrassing 21 litres. Eighteenth?!? Come again?!?! I live in Spain, and boy, are they proud of their wine. Nevertheless, Germany has Spain choking on its dust with 26 litres, and even the UK somehow manages to plonk itself just ahead of the Costal Del Sol & Outskirts in 17th place. This will have me scratching my head till at least midnight, I tell you.

There’s nothing like a luxurious finish with a swig of the priciest bubbly money can buy. France (who else?!) leads with 2 litres per capita in 2012, followed by Belgium and Switzerland. The UK, quite admirably, clambers into 4th place.


[This article was updated on 13 March 2014]

[For data source, click here]

Who Spends The Most On Weight Loss Products?

Weight loss concoctions, urgh, I can hear you snort with palpable disdain. I’m sure most of us have brushed up against these foul things at least once in our lives.

I remember buying some fibre tablets when I was a dumpy teenager. The idea was that they would swell up in your stomach and give you a feeling of fullness. They were like huge wooden pellets and made me gag when I tried to swallow them. As for the ‘slimming’ effect… well… erm… at least they kept me regular. I also bought a packet of slimming pills back in the 80s, but after reading through a long list of bone-marrow-curdling side effects (one of which was ‘personality changes’…!?!), they duly ended up in the trash.

OK, so maybe I wasn’t exactly a poster child slimming aids consumer, but as a product category, slimming aids are hugely successful. According to the magic database, hopeful dieters spent US$13.3 billion on these products last year.

Enticing colour...!

Enticing colour…!

Meal replacement slimming products (think Slim Fast shakes and those beefed-up-with-vitamins snack bars that taste like cardboard, which you’re meant to be eating instead of real food) made up the bulk of sales, raking in almost US$7 billion in 2012. And there’s no prize for guessing who forks out the most. Of course, it’s the US, generating just over one third of global sales, followed by South Korea, Japan, Brazil, Mexico and Italy. South Korea, surprisingly, has a higher per capita spend on meal replacement products than the US. Go figure!

The US and Japan (Japanese women are notoriously weight obsessed) feature as the top consumers of weight loss supplements, which amassed US$4.5 billion in value sales world-wide in 2012. Those fibre tablets I mentioned would fall into this category. Mexico, Taiwan and Russia are the next big spenders.

Slimming teas, surprisingly enough, is the category which grew the fastest in 2012 in terms of value sales. China is the biggest market for weight loss tea, followed by Russia, Taiwan, the US and Thailand.

Slimming Tea

I just love the product info for this Chinese brand:
This product is manufactured after strict checkout and authorized by national sanitation department, which takes jiaogu cyan, gingko leaves, tea polyphenols and lactose as main raw material. After making the function test, it proves that this product has health care function of reducing weight.
1. This product can not replace medicine.
2. It should stop using this product when weight reaches normal weight.

Improper object: Pregnant women and lactation mother

I don’t know about you, but I can feel a coffee & cake session coming on…

[For data source, click here]


Who Spends The Most On Toiletries and Cosmetics?

Most of you will probably agree that personal hygiene, beauty and assorted bathroom-related habits are a fascinating matter. I’ve written about bad” national eating habits once before, and today, I decided to scour the market research database I have access to for factoids relating to body care products.

So, in terms of annual per capita expenditure, who do you think spends the most on…

Answer: Norway, followed by Australia and Japan. Surprisingly, Iranians spend more than the Portuguese and Latvians.

In 2010, an Iranian cleric famously blamed the country’s recurring earthquake disasters on women “not dressing modestly enough”. The use of lipstick, fortunately, was not implicated.

Answer: Brazilians. Makes sense. It’s hot there, and they are notoriously body conscious.
At the whiffy bottom pit of the table are Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Indonesia and India.

Men’s Grooming Products?
Answer: Ireland. Really. Irish blokes forked out the equivalent of US$30.4 on men’s grooming products per capita in 2011. Or maybe it was their better halves, driven by their far more discerning olfactory sensibilities, to make the purchase…?

Skin whitening products have major traction in many parts of the world, especially in the Asia Pacific region. In India, 84% of facial moisturisers sold (by retail value) in 2011 contained skin whitening ingredients, followed by the Philippines (65%), Taiwan, Indonesia (both 52%), Thailand (50%), Egypt and Japan (both 41%).

The Japanese are not just obsessed with attaining a flawlessly pallid visage, but they are also the world’s top spenders when it comes to “super premium” beauty and personal care products (i.e. top end luxury brands) – they shell out three times more than Americans and ten times as much as Canadians. The latter, intriguingly, clock up the highest per capita spend on hair removal products. I must admit this puzzles me – surely they could do with a bit of insulating body fluff to stay warm…?

[For data source, click here]

Which Countries Have the Worst Eating Habits?

Have you ever wondered which nations guzzle the most coke, who polishes off the most chocolate bars, and who gorges themselves on ready meals? Well, you’re about to find out.

As some of you may know, I earn my living by writing analysis articles about the food industry for a market research company. To do this job, I consult a vast database to identify trends and pull off the relevant statistical information to back up my fabrications.

So, who do you think indulges in the biggest vatfuls of factory-churned slosh, a.k.a ready meals?
Answer: The UK.

Evidently, cooking is not a favourite pastime on the British Isles. Per capita consumption of ready meals in the UK stood at 14.9kg in 2012. Having spent two decades there, I can attest to the British love of ready meals, but these much maligned offerings do have their merits, as far as I’m concerned. If you want a curry of better average quality than the oil slick covered gristle that is served up in probably two thirds of Indian restaurants in the UK, and you can’t be arsed to cook one from scratch, go get it from the chiller cabinet in whichever supermarket is nearest. Avoid the really cheap stuff, obviously. You get what you pay for.

Interestingly, France, which is so up itself about the superiority of its food culture, consumed 9.6kg in ready meals per head in 2012, surpassing the US’s 8.4kg.

Finland took the closest swipe at the British Gold Medal, and other Scandinavian countries weren’t far behind. This is because Northern Europeans scoff by far the most frozen pizza (which is included in ready meals data). I guess this must have something to do with eating out being so horrendously expensive in Scandinavia.

The US is Fast Food King, …but France ain’t all that far behind!
It will not come as a surprise to anyone that the US emerges as the world’s largest market for fast food. In per capita annual expenditure, however, Australia came out tops with US$653 spent in fast food joints in 2011, compared to the US’s US$630. When it comes specifically to burger fast food, though, the US leads.

France (not that I’m picking on them or anything), clocked up the 8th biggest per capita spend on burger fast food in 2011, globally. The French spent one third more than the British, who came in 15th place.

Who downs the most Cola?
You might think it’s the US, but it’s not. In fact, it’s Mexico, with an impressive 108.6 litres per head in 2011. It seems that those, who haven’t yet scrambled across the border in the dead of night, are living the American Dream in this way. And if you compare the two countries’ obesity and diabetes statistics, it’s working a treat!

The US followed in second place with 87 litres of cola per capita. In third place, bizarrely, we have Uruguay, and then Chile. The brown stuff seeps southwards…

India is bottom of the coke charts with just one piddly litre. But they’ll catch up. As soon as they can afford to actually eat. First things first.

And last but not least…CHOCOLATE!
It’s the UK again, I’m afraid. With 11kg of chocs scoffed per head in 2012. The US only managed 4.4kg, and Spain, where I live now, a frightfully abstemious 2.1kg. Frankly, I don’t quite understand this – me moving here should have doubled this paltry figure. Must do better this year!

Fruit vs. Kitkats - No contest, really...

Fruit vs. Kitkats – No contest, really…

If you’re looking for more detailled information on countries’ fast food consumption, click here.

[For data source, click here]


Chocolate (advertising) Makes You (think you are) Thin

I can’t say that my heart skips a beat for sheer excitement excitement when, on my weekly trawl through the food industry news, I spot yet another headline about women’s mysterious relationship with chocolate. I guess it has the same effect on me as a reported Elvis sighting does on someone who was young in the early 60s – I just can’t stop myself from clicking on it.

So, this latest of chocolate studies was jointly spawned by the Universities of Strathclyde and Western Australia, and published in the journal Appetite. In a nutshell, the researchers showed different types of chocolate advertising to a group of women – some of whom were on a diet and some weren’t – and then shoved boxes of chocs under their drooling chins to see what would happen.

And guess what! When the women were made to watch chocolate advertising featuring skinny models, the dieters among them lost their abstemious cool, diving – at least that’s how I picture it – head first into the delectable assortment laid out in front of them. Who’d have thought…?!

The researchers interpreted this behaviour as “consumers, who were generally more restrained, perceiving themselves as being comparable to the ‘thin ideal models’, and therefore allowing themselves a temporary relaxation of eating restrictions”.

I must admit, I found it rather confusing that the researchers labelled the dieting women as “consumers who were generally more restrained”. Surely, the reason people go on a weight-loss diet in the first place is precisely because they exercise little restraint in their normal, day-to-day life. I guess the boffins used “restrained” as a shorthand for “temporarily restrained”, in as much as one might label a muzzled dog “harmless”, even if it’s rabid and frothing at the mouth.

I don’t know about you, but I’m crazy about chocolate and I can eat an entire 400g bar of Toblerone in one sitting without feeling queasy. And whenever I went on a diet (I haven’t been on one for years, but I remember those days very well), I would fantasise about chocolate, cake, cookies etc. not only from dawn to dusk, but I used to dream about the stuff, in vivid technicolour, every single night for as long as the self-imposed regime would last. I’m convinced that, had I been given the choice between saving my firstborn (if I had one) from a burning building and rescuing a box of Belgian chocolate seashells, the latter would have won out. By a wide margin.

Anyway, our researchers duly concluded that chocolate advertising employing thin models (is there any other kind used in advertising?!) was probably effective. Oh my oh my oh my!  Finally Hershey, Cadbury, Kraft, Nestle, Godiva et al. have cast-iron PROOF that the millions they pour every year into promoting the devilish stuff is not just money down the drain.

Maybe it'll work with carrots???

Maybe it’ll work with carrots…?

Food Follies: Japanese Melons

I earn my crust by construing analysis articles on food industry matters, which means that I spend hours every week trawling though reams of industry news coverage. This might sound a tad dull, but I come across some baffling stuff.

I’ve long had my eye on Japan’s quirkiness with regards to fruit. Fruit to the Japanese is not just something you pick up from stall outside the train station and munch on your way home. Fruit in Japan is two things: flawless and expensive. Single apples sell for around US$5, and two dozen premium cherries can set you back by US$100. Japanese tourists often remark on how cheap the fruit is elsewhere in the world. And that it has brown spots.

Japan’s complex social conventions are underpinned by a highly ritualised gifting culture, which contributes just as much to the country’s vast consumer market as electrical gadgetry. Exorbitantly priced food items are high up on the list as desirable presents. Fruits’ perishability is no hindrance; if anything, it just adds to the allure.

Among the most prestigious of fruits are peaches. They dangle from their trees wrapped in individual paper bags, preventing any blemishes caused by, presumably, dust from butterflies’ wings.

It is melons, however, where Japanese fruit growers really surpass themselves. You’ve probably all seen those pictures of neatly stacked square watermelons, grown in transparent cubed containers. At US$125 a piece, at least your wallet won’t be weighing you down as you lug one of those beauties home. For a special occasion like Mother’s Day, practical and square becomes sentimental and heart-shaped. Topped, of course, with a pretty bow:

In May this year, I came across a news item reporting that a box set of two cantaloupe melons sold for… wait for it… US$12,500. That’s roughly the price of some top-notch breast implants. The fruits were described as “perfect spheres with a smooth, evenly patterned rind”. But the global recession hasn’t left Japan’s melon market entirely unscathed. In 2008, a pair of melons fetched just over US$30,000.

Update, 26 May 2013:

For US$50 a throw, one of these limited edition Hello Kitty melons could be yours:

Hello Kitty MelonThere’s only 300 of them, so you better be quick.


On the Ex-Nutritionist’s Couch: Does Milk give you Menopause?

And today’s question, asked by C, goes like this:

I’m fast approaching a certain age, and I’m really worried about the unpleasant symptoms that made my Mum’s life a misery, like hot flushes and sleepless nights. Last week, my aromatherapist told me that women who don’t drink milk escape the menopause. Is this true?

Dear C, I’m afraid there are only two ways to escape the menopause: popping your clogs before you ever sprout your first grey pube, or being born with a full set of goolies between your legs.

But let’s not be pedantic here. We both know that your aromatherapist was on about avoiding the irksome symptoms, which plague many women for several years before the actual menopause, a period known as the perimenopause. The menopause itself, which officially starts once the curse has run dry for good, is pretty uneventful. Mind you, the fact that she put it like she did should have jolted your alarm bells. Most complementary therapists are about as clued up on nutrition as the Pope is on hot waxing.

I have it on good authority that not even the KGB knows how to stop a complementary therapist from spouting spurious dietary advice. And once you’re alone in a room with one, you might as well be a Chinese pro-democracy protester in front of a firing squad – you’re gonna get it, whether you asked for it or not.

Now, I happen to have a vague idea of how the milk-and-menopause gem of a quack line came about.

Epidemiological studies appear to have shown (oy! – no snoring!) that Japanese women glide into middle age like ballerinas through Swan Lake. Not only do they retain their svelte physiques, their moods are as even as elevator music and they always remember where they’ve put their damn car keys.

Why are they such fortunate creatures, you might ask. Well, the scientists noted that one difference between Japanese women and their sweat-drenched, irritable Western sisters was that they hardly ate any dairy products – they are just not part of the traditional Japanese diet. Then they drew bell-shaped curves, adjusted their calculation variables, and debated at length over statistical significance.

All that serious science aside, I doubt I’m the only one left wondering whether Mrs Yokohama may not have been all that comfortable talking about her vaginal dryness to the guy with the clipboard. Neither did she probably care to mention that she felt the ever more frequent urge to wedge the blunt end of a serving spoon into her husband’s gizzard.

Now, in their paper, published in an eminent, peer-reviewed journal, our researchers would have stated that they did not have quite enough information to draw a cast iron conclusion on whether dairy products made women approaching the menopause go bonkers, and that further studies on the subject were required.

But a good headline this does not make.

So, the Daily Mail opted for something like this: “Milklife Crisis – Daily Latte Makes Women Froth at the Mouth!”. Because that’s the kind of science an aromatherapist can understand.