World Food Price Index: Behind the numbers



Wondering how we got our prices? We contacted a group of friends and colleagues around the world to report on prices in their local supermarket. Where we couldn't find responsive acquaintances, we shopped online. We converted to pounds and quarts from metric units (except for some items, such as Coca-Cola, already in liters, or a dozen eggs or a loaf of bread, for instance). Then we translated from local currency to U.S. dollars, using the current price as of July 29, 2008.

In order to get our baskets to be even (lemons to lemons, if you will), in cases where our shoppers were unable to find prices for an item we filled in the average worldwide price to obtain the "index" price. This is the list we gave our shoppers:

  • half-gallon whole milk

  • 1 lb ground beef

  • 12 oz box of Cheerios or local brand-name equivalent

  • gallon of regular gas

  • 1 lb dry pasta

  • 1 lb bananas

  • 1 lb baking potatoes

  • 1 lb coffee beans

  • 1 lb white rice

  • loaf of white bread

  • dozen eggs

  • 2 liter Coca-Cola or other soda

  • liter of maple syrup

  • pound price for whole chicken

  • 1 head of leaf lettuce

  • 1 pint seasonal fruit, preferably farmer's market

  • 1 lb tofu

  • 1 lemon

  • 1 bunch basil

  • 1 (3 oz) organic chocolate bar

Below you'll find notes and explanations from some of our food surveyors worldwide.

Johannesburg, South Africa -- $75.16
Pick n' Pay

In Johannesburg, despite its proximity to many of the world's finest coffee-growing regions in Northern Africa, coffee is among the most expensive in the world, around $14.30 a pound.

London, England -- $79.08

In London, coffee is by far the most expensive; $18.26 a pound. On the other hand, maple syrup is a relatively inexpensive $6.56 per liter, and white bread was only $0.74 for a loaf.

Adelaide, Australia -- $74.82

Our shopper, Jessica, reported that maple syrup isn't sold in litres in Australia, but grams. She was also wowed by paying close attention to individual prices and discovering that, for instance, white rice is comparably cheap in Australia (67 cents a pound) whereas basil ($3.12 a bunch) and white bread ($4.22 a loaf) are among the most expensive in the world.

Little Rock, Arkansas -- $42.69

Alisha, who shops for her husband and baby, reported that she doesn't drink milk but expects to be adding that to her baby's diet soon; so she was interested to see that her basket of groceries was so inexpensive. She said she wasn't able to find organic chocolate at her local supermarket. Her price for a dozen eggs -- $1.00! -- is testament to the fact that Arkansas is the chicken capital of the U.S.

Newmarket, Ontario, Canada -- $67.61

Canadians have pricey groceries in comparison to many places in the U.S., but they save money on coffee -- it's only $5.99 per pound compared to a $7.11 worldwide average. Amazingly, maple syrup was more expensive in Ontario than it is in Los Angeles, where the grocery stores are much farther away from maple syrup country.

Bangalore, India -- $31.93

Our Bangalore basket turned out to be the cheapest of all, although according to Moupiya, neither dry pasta or maple syrup are readily available in India. For a couple of products, Piya quoted prices for both high quality and low quality groceries, and the difference was pretty astounding; coffee was 42 cents a pound for the cheap stuff and $1.05 per pound for better coffee (still the cheapest in the world, mind you). White rice was 11 cents for low quality and 25 cents for high quality.

Los Angeles, California -- $77.74

In the city of angels, eating is a pricey affair. Ground beef registered at $5.29 a pound -- the highest price in the U.S. and one of the highest worldwide. Bananas, at $1.60 a pound, were positively European in cost. A dozen eggs? $5.99. But Coca-Cola is a bargain: $1.00 for two liters.

Portland, Oregon -- $63.85

I shopped at Safeway, though I'm a committed "locavore" and typically get most of my produce from the farmer's market. I'm used to paying more for my produce from the little farmers; they just can't do loss leaders when they only sell a dozen types of veggies. Surprisingly, though, I found that basil was cheaper and more bountiful at the farmer's market ($2.00 for a giant-sized bunch vs. $2.29 for a little plastic package at Safeway), and raspberries were about the same price ($3.00 per pint) though the Safeway version was far less appealing and fresh.

Hong Kong -- $56.89
Taipei, Taiwan -- $59.29

Our Chinese-language bloggers from Engadget China gathered prices for us from Hong Kong and Taipei, where we were interested to see that ground beef was enormously expensive ($11.30 a pound in Taipei) and packaged cereal was extremely cheap (80 cents for a box of Corn Flakes). Gas is very pricey on the island of Hong Kong, $8.30 a gallon, while Coca-Cola is cheap everywhere (around $1.50).

Frankfort, Germany -- $61.08
Esbe Market

I don't know what rice I expected Germans might eat, but I didn't think it would be Uncle Ben's. It is! And it's not cheap; a 1kg box is €3.49, or $2.49 per pound. Kayt also reported that "they didn't have a whole chicken at the store (you usually go to the Metzgerai for that) but chicken breasts were €8.40 per kg, one of our highest prices in the world as a result. Kayt also shopped the farmer's market for us in Frankfort, where fresh strawberries were €2.99 for 500g, or about $2.00 per pint. A bargain!

Madrid, Spain -- $71.81
El Corte Ingles

Madrid and Los Angeles were eerily similar in prices, with milk, ground beef, bananas and chicken within a few quarters of each other. Madrid residents don't, it appears, eat Cheerios (we found Corn Flakes for about $2.92 per box) and the rice was the most expensive in the world at $3.57 per pound.

Paris, France -- $105.28

When I was a senior in college, I spent a few days in Paris and got up early one morning to shop a street market. I remember not being able to afford very much. I still wouldn't be able to afford to shop in Paris, even though I'm now not a starving student; it's the most expensive food basket in WalletPop's World Food Price Index. White bread ($3.07), tofu ($10.00 per pound) and maple syrup (a whopping $28.33 per liter) were particularly pricey.

Brussels, Belgium -- $87.82

Gaby shopped both at a supermarket and at her neighborhood grocery market and had all kinds of interesting notes in her report, such as this one about ground beef; it was "2.25 Euros ("carbonnade" cut at cheap butcher's shop) or 4.45 ("steak tatare cut" at normal or quality butcher's shop)." As for potatoes, she made a distinction: "0.50 Euro/500 gm (new potatoes); old potatoes are 0.30 Euro/kg." Old potatoes! I love that. As for fruit, she said, "1.50 and 2 Euros for a 500-gm tub of currants and strawberries, respectively. Raspberries are 2-3 Euros for half that; cultivated blueberries are 2.50 Euros for a 500-gm tub." It's interesting that, in America, the distinction is made with wild blueberries, but cultivated blueberries are just "blueberries."

Kuwait City -- $55.43

In Kuwait, we expected the gas to be cheap, and it was -- the price came out to an almost insane $0.78 per gallon. But what really blew us away was the coffee: 27 cents a pound! Now that's black gold. An interesting tidbit: In Kuwait City, eggs are sold by the basket of 30, instead of by the dozen.

Moscow, Russia -- $69.11

Who would have thought that potatoes would be $4.45 per pound in Russia -- one of the highest worldwide prices? Gas, however, is a veritable steal at $2.10 per gallon.

Brazil -- $34.19

Coffee was also cheap in Brazil thanks to its proximity to so many equatorial coffee growers; $2.10 per pound. Lemons, at six cents apiece, must have been in season. Bananas, too, are local in Brazil and only 25 cents per pound. All this seems fitting for a tropical nation. But the biggest surprise was maple syrup, $1.65 per liter.

Originally published