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Food Prices Around the World: Who Has the Highest Grocery Bills?

An in-depth look at how restaurant and grocery prices are rising or falling in cities and countries across the globe.
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international food prices

What we call “agricultural commodities” are one of two things: staple crops and/or animals. They’re essentially the source of food for both people and animals across the globe, though it also includes things like lumber to make furniture or rubber from rubber trees.

Needless to say, it’s an incredibly important market. In no uncertain terms, every living being depends on the agricultural industry.

So what’s the agricultural industry up to lately?“, you may ask. And how is the current pandemic affecting food prices? It depends on which country you’re asking the question.

Certain countries and cities have seen grocery prices skyrocket, while new “foodie cities” pop up (along with their prices) almost every day. A banana isn’t worth the same in Japan as it is in the U.S. Lettuce prices might vary highly within a country’s own borders, and a meal ticket can increase significantly if you walk just a few blocks over.

Taking all of these agricultural commodity end-games into account, we present to you the following: an in-depth look at how restaurant and grocery prices are rising or falling in cities and countries across the globe.

Food Cost Changes

Our study first decided to take a look into the percentage change in the cost of U.S. food items and goods from 2019 to 2020. As we know, a lot happened in that short time frame, and the agricultural commodity market certainly took notice.

Percentage change in the cost of U.S food items and goods
With the exception of inexpensive restaurant meals, domestic beers, mid-range bottles of wine, and cappuccinos, all other product categories increased in price ranging from 0.6% and 10% from 2019 to 2020. A mid-range meal for two saw the greatest increase at 10%. Domestic beer prices under 0.5l decreased by 6.6%, while cappuccino prices decreased by 0.5%.

This recent year can’t be analyzed without first noting its existence in the pandemic. Entire economies were shut down, and nearly every industry took a major hit. The pandemic impacted both demand and supply of commodities. 

While there were immediate and direct implications from the shutdown, there were also indirect effects like stalls in future growth plans for business. Oil prices took a nosedive in April of 2020, while concerns over food security rise as countries dole out more and more trade restrictions.

Meals for two people saw the biggest surge in prices. Due to the implementation of increased safety measures, limited seating, and supply-chain issues, some restaurant owners may have not had much choice other than to increase their own prices. Oranges and cigarettes also saw a major price during the first quarter of 2020, with a $4.12 and $8.00 cost today, respectively. Beers and coffees were the only goods to see a drastic decrease in price.

International Tables for Two

Average Cost of a Meal for Two by Country
On average, the cheapest meal for two came to $9.43 in Bangladesh, while the most expensive meal in Iceland for $105.25, giving us a price range of 111.6% between the two. India and Pakistan are all under $11 per meal for two. Switzerland closely follows Iceland at $103.56, before there’s a 17.35% drop to $88.25 in Denmark.

A very specific area on the map became immediately obvious and essentially showed where expensive food was concentrated. The Nordic countries surrounding Iceland, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, and Finland, suggest both a cultural and geographic significance to the expensive dining. 

Popular Scandinavian foods, like fish and meatballs, can be particularly expensive menu items today, due to the surge in general meat prices. Several Of these countries also have a value-added tax (VAT) rate that is partially added to food and drink. Norway and Sweden also have state-run monopolies on alcohol, which helps to keep the prices up.

Staples like eggs, beef, bread, and cheese were expensive in Switzerland, but the U.S. was still more expensive when it came to buying things like wine or apples.

Water is an especially important commodity to consider. A 12-ounce bottle currently costs more in Switzerland than any other country in the world, averaging $3.63 at a Swiss restaurant. In the U.S., by comparison, the same water bottle would cost $1.56. 

Many experts anticipate the prices of water to continue to increase. The cheapest water bottle in the world exists in Bangladesh, costing a mere 18 cents.

Cosmopolitan Tastes

The study again averaged the cost of a three-course meal for two people, but this time by city instead of country. Immediately, new areas outside of Scandinavia were exposed as expensive.

Average Cost of a Meal for Two by City
The top 9 most inexpensive meals are all in cities in India, ranging from $7.92 to $13.21. Iceland and Switzerland once again top the expensive list with Reykjavik leading at $115.35 per meal for two, closely followed by Zurich, and Lausanne.

Famous cities in the United States and Australia began to pop up when we filtered through expensive restaurants, as did many areas throughout Europe and New Zealand.

That said, cities within Scandinavian countries still held the top four most expensive meals within their walls, on average. The most expensive cities to get this three-course meal were Reykjavik, Iceland; Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland; and Copenhagen, Denmark.

Beef was particularly expensive in Lausanne, costing an extra $30 over New York City prices.

New York City was the only city to contend with its Scandinavian competitors in terms of price. A three-course meal for two people will, on average, cost an even $100 in the Big Apple. But even the apples in this city are expensive, costing just 89 cents less than they do in Tokyo, which has the most expensive apples in the world. 

Another staple – a pound of rice –was also incredibly expensive in New York ($6.33 per pound) and cost more here than it did anywhere else. Other specific food items, such as lettuce and potatoes were also on the very high end of the cost spectrum in this city.

Bottled water in the U.S., which is already unaffordable in 10% of households, paled in comparison to the prices of Zurich Switzerland. While a water bottle costs $1.85 in New York City, a similar product would cost you $3.70 in Zurich.

Yearly Restaurant Price Increases

Arguably, a change in expenses may be harder to adapt to than an already-expensive city. With the latter, at least you know what you’re getting yourself in for. But certain changes over the course of just one year were unexpected.

The next portion of the study showcases not only the most expensive countries, but how much the rankings of those expenses changed since 2019.

Change in ranking of most and least expensive countries for restaurant meals
The data shows the rate of change in restaurant prices across the world from 2019 to 2020. Ghana leads as the country that dropped in prices the most with -16 points, while and Kenya Ukraine lead as the countries that saw the highest price increases with 14 points. 50% of the top countries dropping in price are in South America.

In 2019, the U.S. ranked as 18th most expensive when it came to dining out. In 2020, the U.S. ranked as 17th most expensive. In other words, how expensive the U.S. was in comparison with the rest of the world didn’t change much.

Ukraine, on the other hand, saw its formerly low ranking rise the most in terms of average expensiveness. The country has a legacy of a diet high in animal protein as part of its cultural heritage from its former part in the Soviet Union. But the diet itself has seen many recent changes: daily or almost daily intake of fruits and vegetables has steadily increased in the country over the last ten years. Perhaps this was reflected in its ranking shift.

Currently, nearly 20% of the world’s population works in farming. Some regions of the world, like sub-Saharan Africa, have more people farming than in any other industry. Many of these countries, however, drastically dropped in price ranking over the past year. That said, Kenya saw the second most expensive price increase year over year. In June of 2020, this country began attempting a specifically ordained beer-to-sausage ratio during its initial reopening phases.

Grocery Store Receipts

Expensive groceries can be incredibly difficult on impoverished communities. The following map looks at the countries which were ranked as the most and least expensive for groceries, as well as how their ranking in this regard changed from 2019 to 2020.

Change in ranking of most and least expensive countries for groceries
The data shows the rate of change in grocery prices from 2019 to 2020. Ghana saw the highest drop in grocery costs, despite the highest rise in restaurant prices (previous infographic). Singapore stands out with a 16 point increase as the highest rising country for groceries costs.

Russia, China, and Mexico had very high grocery prices. As evident from the map above, these countries had grocery expenses that far outweighed those in the U.S. and many South American countries. That said, the U.S. was still the 12th most expensive country for grocery shopping in the world.

Singapore and the United Arab Emirates saw their average grocery price rankings increase the most. The cost of living in the UAE is one of the highest in the world, which evidently applies to groceries as well. That said, it’s diversification in agricultural commodities also caused a more severe impact from the global financial crisis than its neighbors did.

Singapore has also been receiving attention for its exceedingly expensive tastes. Our results would suggest it’s only trending more in that same direction.

Future of Food

The data ultimately showcased a world in flux. While certain strongholds in Scandinavian countries and the U.S. seemed to maintain their expensive allure, change is in the air. The data showed major fluxes in everything from markets to countries and commodities. With COVID-19 and recent historical events, anything is possible.

As essential as the agriculture industry is, it’s always ripe for change. The world of trading these and other commodities is never boring. From agricultural trading to all types of commodity interests, Commodity.com can help with all trading-related education and action. Commodity.com even gives its visitors completely free lessons to learn more about how trading commodities works. If you’re interested in trading today or just learning how to get started, head to Commodity.com today.

Methodology and Limitations

Data on the prices of food items and goods were collected from Numbeo.com on May 28, 2020. Data for 2020 reflect the average price of food items and goods for the year at the time the data were collected. Country-level data is calculated as an average of data from cities located within that country.

All price data were collected in U.S. dollars. Historical changes in international food prices and comparisons between countries may be influenced by inflation or foreign exchange movements. Historical prices from Numbeo.com use historical mid-year and mid-month currency exchange rates.

Data from Numbeo rely on user inputs and authoritative sources. No statistical testing was performed using this data. As such, the findings on this page are exploratory and are provided here for informational purposes only.

Efforts were taken to ensure a sufficient sample size of user inputs were available to aggregate data for each city and country. The number of user inputs per city within the last 12 months ranged from 299 to 14,217 with a mean of 2,214. The number of user inputs per country within the last 12 months ranged from 663 to 155,782 with a mean of 9,875.

Fair Use Statement

Food prices seem to change before our very eyes. If someone you know could benefit from the information in this project, you are welcome to share for any non-commercial reuse. Please link back here so the project can be viewed in its entirety and the methodology can be reviewed. This also gives credit to the contributors who make this work possible.

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