Why, among all Europeans, Romanians spend the most money on food

Romanians, compared to other European citizens, spend the most money on food. Why do we spend so much on them? To be poor, on the one hand, but also because we haven't forgotten the shortages from the communist period, and now it's as if we want everything, experts in the field explained to “Adevărul”.

Food is at the top of Romanians' expenses. Photo source: Archive

According to Eurostat data for 2022, Romanians spend, on average, 23.7% of their total monthly income on food. Immediately below us are the Bulgarians, with 18.9%, followed by the citizens of Slovakia and Lithuania, with 18%, and those from Estonia and Latvia, with 17.7%. At the opposite pole, there are the Irish who spend only 7% of their total monthly income on food, the citizens of Luxembourg with 8.2% and those in Austria with 8.9%.

Practically, among all Europeans, when it comes to food, Romanians leave almost a quarter of their income on the counter or at the cash registers. But not because we are rich, but on the contrary, because we are very poor, economic analyst Adrian Negrescu explained for “Adevărul”.

“The Romanians' incomes are lower than those in Western Europe. If we were to compare the price/wage ratio in Germany, for example, we would pay less for food if we had their wages”. People, says the expert, have now come to enter the hypermarket, look at the prices and leave. “Enter the store like a museum. Admire products they can't afford. And when they buy, they buy basic foods by the hundred grams. Unfortunately, the top sellers are margarine, potatoes, rice and breadcrumbs. I'm back to the 90s diet”, explains Negrescu. The large amount of money we spend on food is not because we buy more, but because it is more expensive. “The Romanians have reduced their plate even more compared to say three years ago. Really, when you spend so much on food, you think about how to tighten the belt, do a little weight loss. Basically, the state imposed on us a diet to lose weight, a diet in which the magiunul came to represent a standard of consumption in Romania. Which is absurd and outrageous”the economic specialist also declared.

And the sociologist Vladimir Ionaș is of the same opinion, namely that Romanians' incomes are low compared to those in the West. “When we calculate percentage differences between Romania and other states, we have to take into account the very large difference in incomes. It is normal, in such conditions, to pay more than them for almost everything”.

About poverty and the reminiscences of communism

According to Eurostat data, food accounts for more than 14% of household expenditure, and this is generally the case in countries with medium and low wage incomes. Furthermore, these countries are members of the former communist bloc. And we can't help asking ourselves the question: isn't it, in certain cases, also about a kind of exaggerated consumerism, precisely because of the deprivations that many of us suffered during the communist regime? Lacks that were imprinted in our DNA, in our memory, that caused us trauma and that we now try to forget by buying, often compulsively? Sociologist Vladimir Ionaș explained to us that Romanians, beyond the fact that they have very low incomes compared to western countries, are really trying to get what they didn't have in the past. Food, clothes, shoes are in the foreground. “The shortages back then made much of today's society wish they had everything now. And it's not just about food, it's about everything we can buy. It's kind of natural for people to want to have access to what they couldn't have all that time.”

Sociologist Dan Petre further reinforces this idea. “Food is a very important thing for us. Among the reasons there is also a cultural component. We went through that period of scarcity when we had no access to food and then the wealth on the table speaks of our social and financial situation. And this is especially visible during the holidays. If we have full tables, it means we are good. It is a proof to ourselves, but also to others. I even often joke and say that our national sport is not the sheep, but the horse. Food is very important in our cultural space”.

According to the same Eurostat data, expenses for everything that means housing, namely water, electricity, gas, other utilities and fuels, amount to 18.4% of a family's total expenses in Romania. As a comparison, the average share in the EU is 24.1%. Slovaks top the list, spending 30.3% of their income on home maintenance, followed by Finns with 29.7% and Danes with 29.1%.

As for us Romanians, if we look carefully at these two groups of expenses, those for food and those for housing, we will notice that they greatly reduce our monthly income. We are talking, more precisely, about a percentage of 42.1%. However, here we are in second place, because in the top of the two types of expenses is Slovakia, which amounts to 48.3%.

Romania is also the only country in the EU where clothing and footwear represent over 6% of a household's total expenditure. Practically, in this chapter too, we are Europe's codas. More precisely, we are talking about a percentage of 6.3% of income that goes on clothes, while the EU average is 4.3%.

We all know that health costs a lot in Romania. Spending in this chapter amounts to 6.9% of total income, while the average share allocated by households in the EU is only 4.5%. Romanians also pay a lot for education compared to other European countries. On the other hand, we are more moderate in terms of recreation and culture, books and publications. While Europeans allocate on average 1.% of their income to books, Romanians allocate only 0.5%. “Here there is a big problem, here it depends more on education, on how society had examples to follow in cultural consumption. It's a problem, we know it, it can be seen in all the cultural barometers, but here it's about the lack of models”, sociologist Vladimir Ionaș explained the figures.

Capping the commercial addition to food, a fraud magnet for votes

What is one of the weapons with which the Government tries, he says, to fight poverty and keep food prices under control? Extension of the VAT ceiling period for certain categories of products. More specifically, the Government decided to extend by two months the capping of commercial additives to basic foods. However, the authorities have announced certain changes to the list of capped foods. Christmas products, for example, are off the list. The cake, margarine, stock, minced meat and yeast have been replaced with butter and margarine. However, we are talking about an unnecessary measure, experts say. Economic analyst Adrian Negrescu stated that “the ceiling of the commercial addition is friction to the wooden leg. It does not solve the problem of prices in stores. Moreover, we have reached the aberrant and absurd situation in which we import more basic food products to ensure consumption needs in the context of capping the commercial addition. We stimulated imports and not local production”.

The expert explained that the cap did nothing but limit the earning potential of local producers. “If we really wanted to solve the problem, we could reduce the VAT on basic food products like Poland, Portugal even to zero! The state is trying to trick us by telling us that it wants to moderate prices, given that according to INS data, prices for the last six months have increased, not decreased.”

The extension of the capping period is, according to the specialist, a practice only with an electoral stake. “It has no economic justification, no impact study behind it. Nor have the authorities specifically told us what the results have been so far. The solution is to let manufacturers compete in a free market, to compete on prices, on promotions, to give people the opportunity to choose,” says the expert.