Know an Israeli by What’s Inside His Shopping Cart

The latest household survey documents how food spending varies a lot by income, nationality and religion

File Photo: Fruits and vegetables with shopping list, 2012.
Emil Salman

Many believe you can tell which sector of the population an Israeli belongs to by what he or she is wearing – the headgear, the length of her sleeves or the height of her hemline, and how authentic the designer label is. 

But it turns out you can identify the Israeli by what is in his supermarket shopping cart and putting down on the dinner table, or just how often he chooses to eat out instead of at home. Not everyone shares the Mediterranean diet of fresh produce, legumes and olive oil.

The Central Bureau of Statistics’ latest household survey, which quizzed 9,017 Israelis from 242 communities on how they spent their money, detected big differences between class, nationality and even religion.
Some of the findings were not surprising. Israelis at the top end of the income ladder spent far more on food every month than those at the bottom – an average of 3,565 shekels ($984) for those in the top 10% of income earners versus 2,394 for those in the bottom 10%. 

That number captured only part of the gap because the average household in the top decile had just 2.5 people, compared with 4.5 for those in the bottom 10%. 

The top 10% only spent 13.8% of their total household expenses on food every month, but the shekel figure was so high because they eat out so frequently. The CBS said they spend close to 30%, or an average of 997 shekels, of their food budget on restaurants and cafes.

At the bottom end of the income ladder, eating out accounted for just 8.1% of monthly food costs. But even though they weren’t indulging in restaurant meals, the bottom 10% were spending close to a quarter of their monthly household expenses on food (the average for all Israelis is 17%), or just 193 shekels a month, the CBS found.

Food spending habits also differ between Israeli Arabs and Jews. Arabs spend an average of 23.9% of the household budget every month on food, versus just 15.9% for Jews. In shekel terms that comes out to no less than 3.696 shekels a month, over 1,000 shekels more than the average Jewish family.

That’s partly because the average Israeli Arab household has 4.4 people, compared with 3.2 for the average Jewish household. But there’s also a big difference in spending habits.

The typical Israeli Arab family spends 974 shekels a month on meat and poultry, nearly three times the outlay of Jewish households. The bill for fresh produce is also bigger, though by not as much – 770 shekels versus 525. Jewish households spend the largest part of the monthly food budget on fruits and vegetables, with meat and poultry coming in at No. 2.

Where Arab households spend less is on alcohol, which is not surprising given Islam’s ban on spirits, and on eating out. One marketing expert who specializes in the Arab sector put the difference down to the place of women in most Arab households.

“Only 34% of women in Arab society are in the labor market, so it’s natural that they end up spending more time at home and in the kitchen,” he explained. “Children in the Arab sector don’t go to after-school programs but return home and eat lunch there. [Arab families] also do a lot more hosting.”

In any case, he added, because Arab households are on average poorer, they don’t have the money to splurge on new cars or private health insurance.

Among Jews, food spending patterns also vary. The biggest spenders of all are traditional Jews, with an average food tab of 2,960 a month. Religious Jews are next at 2,870. Secular and Haredi Jews spend the same on average – 2,600 shekels a month, even though Haredi families are much bigger.

In any event, secular households spend just 15.6% of their monthly household budget on food, slightly less than the approximately 18.5% spent by traditional, religious and Haredi Jews.

Secular Jews spend the most of eating out – an average of 647 shekels a month. Traditional and religious Jews spend a lot less (just 372 and  279 shekels, respectively) and Haredim almost nothing – just 121 a month.
One thing that doesn’t vary among householders is how much they spend relative to how many children are at home: Among families with six children, food costs take up 18.5% of household expenses while among those with just one, they are 15.2% on average.

Another thing all Israeli Jewish households have in common is that no matter the income, religious observance or family size, dairy products take up 12% of the food budget. That might explain why the 2011 social-justice protests were sparked by a hike in the price of cottage cheese