Commentators around the world, especially those in the west, continually speculate whether the consumer “will resist if the price of beef rises by x cents per kg”. The fact is that consumers of beef in western nations have been enjoying ridiculously low prices for beef since the mid 1970s at the expense of the world’s beef producers who simply grew too much. This situation has been going on for so long that almost everyone assumes that the current price of beef is the “appropriate” one. Wrong. Western consumers are about to pay a lot more. They won’t like it but they will pay more, just like everyone else around the planet.
As I travel around Asia, I am continually amazed at the demand for beef despite the very high price of the product when this value is compared to the local consumer’s purchasing power. Basically, Asian consumers pay roughly the same price for beef as Australian consumers but they have dramatically lower average incomes.
This consistent observation prompted me to make a more detailed calculation of the real cost of beef paid by our Asian customers. See below a very basic calculation where I have used some World Bank national income data, expressed in USD$ to compare “average incomes” with the cost of beef. I have divided the annual incomes by 365 to get a feel for the daily spending power of the various countries in the list. The beef prices in my monthly reports are based on knuckle (round) so I have used this current data (converted to US$) and divided the price of a kilo of knuckle by the income to get a percentage figure which reflects the proportion of daily income necessary to buy a similar piece of beef in each county.
It is interesting to note that the countries at the bottom of the list (with the lowest average incomes) have some of the highest comparative prices for beef.
The other outstanding feature is the extremely low proportion of income that US and Australian consumers need to fork out today in order to buy a lump of beef. I asked my 84-year-old Mum in Victoria if she could remember how much she used to pay for beef before the crash. She contacted her old butcher friend who confirmed that in 1972 knuckle was selling in the Aussie butcher shop for about AUD$4.50 per kg. The butcher guessed that his salary at the time was around $70 per week ($10 per day) hence the cost of the kg of knuckle in 1972 to the Australian housewife was in the order of 45% of an “average” workers daily income. More or less.
Chicken and pork remain exceptionally competitive throughout Asia with pork usually about half the price of beef while industrial broilers are closer to one-third the price of beef as a general rule of thumb.
Despite this price differential, the demand for beef continues its relentless climb.
2 billion Asian consumers, a short distance to our north, clearly recognize the value of good quality beef and are prepared to pay a handsome price for it despite having plenty of cheaper alternatives. This potent demand can only mean one thing for Australian consumers, higher prices are coming as the fastest growing beef market in the world demands more of our magnificent beef and is prepared to pay a much higher percentage of their personal incomes to get it than we are.