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Indonesia to challenge as top wheat importer

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Indonesia is to challenge Egypt as the top wheat importing country, as the "increasing pace of life" in the world's fourth most populous country prompts consumers to ditch rice-based meals in favour of instant noodles and sandwiches.

Indonesia's 250m-strong population, which has historically viewed rice as its staple grain, is already increasingly been turning to wheat, for which consumption has soared more than 60% in a decade, according to US Department of Agriculture data.

Even so, Indonesians eat, at 26 kilogrammes per year, less wheat per head than peers in the likes of China and Malaysia, and considerably less than the global average of 76 kilogrammes per year.

Compared with rice consumption, at only 17%, they eat less wheat than Filipinos too.

And wheat is to gain in popularity in Indonesia as the country's young population, of which 44% are aged less than 25, and increasing affluence prompt a switch to wheat-based products, Rabobank said.

'Increasing pace of life'

While wheat is made into products such as noodles, bread and biscuits, which can be eaten with "minimal preparation", rice "takes longer to prepare and is typically accompanied by other food items", the bank noted.

"The increasing pace of life in Indonesia has resulted in more consumers choosing instant noodles and bread for their meals.

"With rising affluence… Indonesian consumers will start to perceive wheat-based consumption as being more global or modern, leading to a further shift away from the current staple of rice.

"The preference for Western, wheat-based foods will grow."

Instant demand

The impact of this consumption on trade, given that Indonesia can grow wheat domestically, will feed through directly to imports, which will rise above 10m tonnes within five years, Rabobank said.

"The growth in consumption of noodles and bakery products, and the expansion of food service chains, will underpin this growth in imports," the bank said, adding that it would help meet an Indonesian government aim of self-sufficiency in rice too.

The forecast is above the 8.4m tonnes at which the USDA sees Indonesian wheat imports rising to as of 2018-19, and would come only 1.0m tonnes below volumes expected to be bought in by top-ranked Egypt.

The USDA sees Indonesian wheat imports taking a decade to hit 10m tonnes.

Australia boost

The prospect of strong Indonesian import demand bodes well for wheat growers in Australia, its default source of supplies, with a market share of some 70%.

Canada and the US are also major suppliers.

Australia's Abares commodities bureau on Tuesday cautioned the country's grains industry over "greater competition" in exports, including in the Asian market.

"Exports of grains and oilseeds from the Black Sea region alone will increase to almost 80m tonnes by 2018–19, which is 20 per cent higher than 2013–14," Abares commodities analyst Neil Thompson said.

"With increasing competition, Australian producers will need to focus on productivity growth to maintain and improve farm gate returns."


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