While the food industry is sometimes called the world’s biggest industry – in reality it’s a conglomeration of broad sectors and businesses. These range from farming and agriculture to food processing to marketing and retailing with many related industries and businesses involved in each sector.
A key determinant in viewing the food industry has to do with what country you live in. Even as global trade becomes more important the fact is that the food industry differs according to geography, culture and economies. While eating habits in the United States differ from those in China and India, generally speaking, as nations become wealthier, they change their eating habits. Although we often think otherwise, economies are improving leading to a radical reduction in world-wide poverty. As citizens move up the economic ladder they start buying more packaged foods and consuming more meat. And in richer countries the trend toward eating more healthily has spawned new sub-sectors, such as the organic food business, and functional foods like neutraceuticals, which mix medicine and nutrients.
Available land plays a big role in both the local and international food industry. Very populous countries with fast growing economies such as India and China have seen tracts of prime land get swallowed up by factories all while their populations grow and become more urbanized. By 2050, 14 of the world’s 20 biggest metropolises will be in Asia and Africa. By then, the planet could have as many as 9.7 billion mouths to feed, according to a United Nations report. Factor in changing diets and we will need to raise global food output by 70 percent from 2009 levels, according to an FAO estimate.
There are about 330 million people to feed in the United States and it takes about 1 acre to feed the average U.S. consumer. In China, where the population is closing in on 1.4 billion people there’s about 0.2 acres of arable land per citizen, including fields degraded by pollution. Some analysts believe the saying that “as goes China, so goes the world” and for China to feed its population it relies on a host of solutions ranging from regulations to technology to imports.
So while it is true that in many ways the food industry is a local industry when you step back and look down the road it is clear that the industry will continue to become more international. This is because China and other large developing countries will only be able to avoid a food crisis by leveraging technology to improve efficiency and looking abroad for staples like soybeans and meat.
The bottom line is that the future of even the localized US food industry is closely tied to the eating habits and economic fortunes, or misfortunes thousands of miles away.