Rice off the menu: Asia's hunger for bread and pastries boosts wheat demand
By Meeyoung Cho and Rebecca Jang
SEOUL (Reuters) - Asia is losing some of its appetite for rice in favor of wheat, a trend that is nowhere more pronounced than South Korea where bread and pastries have become a new staple.
From working mothers, who find toast more convenient to prepare for breakfast, to city dwellers flocking to new eateries for baguettes, South Koreans are at the forefront of an Asia-wide trend that has seen wheat demand climb at nearly twice the rate of rice consumption since 2008.
And while Asia is largely self sufficient in rice, demand for bread and noodles from Mumbai to Manila has made Asia the largest and fastest growing market for wheat imports, shipping in more than 40 million tonnes annually for the past five years or 25 percent of world imports.
"I eat bread with coffee almost every morning," said Lee Seung-Hee, a 47-year-old working mother of two, who often gives her children bread as a snack between meals.
"My husband likes to have rice meals, so I try to cook rice for him. But when I'm too busy, I just give him bread."
South Koreans spent an estimated 6.36 trillion won ($5.37 billion) last year on bread, sandwiches, bagels and pastries, according to SPC Group, owner of the Paris Croissant and Paris Baguette chains, which has even opened two stores in the French capital Paris as part of global expansion.
Meanwhile, South Korea's rice consumption hit a record low of 65.1 kg per person last year, while flour consumption was the highest since 2006 at 33.6 kg, according to industry and official data.
"Housewives are increasingly having bread and coffee for brunch late morning instead of rice and kimchi," said Kang Byung-Oh, a business professor at Chung-Ang University, referring to the spicy local side dish. Continued...