China as the World’s Next Superconsumer

This goes into the “be careful what you wish for” file, but China’s path to superconsumer status, while part of global economic rebalancing, comes with myriad consequences:

Chinese consumers have never had more options. America’s Wal-Mart, France’s Carrefour, Britain’s Tesco and Japan’s Ito Yokado are expanding in China faster than in any other country. Each year, they open hundreds of new stores in the expectation that demand will surge as more rural migrants move into cities and work their way into the middle class. Young urbanites are becoming as enthusiastic about french fries, burgers and fried chicken as their counterparts in New York or London. When the first KFC opened near Tiananmen Square in 1987, it was seen as a novel western dining experience; 20 years later, the company has 2,000 outlets in 400 cities, employing 200,000 people, making it easily the biggest restaurant chain in China. In roughly the same period, McDonald’s had grown from one restaurant to 800.
Along with the changing diet came a surge in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Obese children used to be rare in China; now nearly 15% of the population is overweight. Shanghai is often cited as the worst affected city. Barbieā„¢ burgers and the like are part of an increasingly carnivorous diet. To feed its growing livestock, China imports huge quantities of soya, much of it from Brazil, which has resulted in accelerated clearance of Amazonian forest and Cerrado savanna. Like many other wealthy cities, the high-protein, high-octane, jet-set lifestyle is being paid for elsewhere.

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