Brazil’s new middle class has a growing appetite for consumption

Since 2002, Brazil has enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth. Consumer incomes have risen across the board, amid stronger growth with low inflation, which has boosted real wages. There has also been increased government support for low-income earners under President Lula da Silva. The result has been a sharp increase in consumption and retail demand.


The emergence of a new lower middle class in Brazil with growing disposable incomes and easier access to credit offers abundant potential for retailers. Yet income distribution in Brazil remains one of the most highly unequal in the world and it will take several more years of sustained real growth (and proactive government policies) to reduce these disparities. As the size of the middle class expands exponentially, retailers can expect a sustained boom in the new mass consumer market in Brazil.


Brazilian household incomes fell sharply from the mid-1990s, owing to a series of economic crises that resulted in recession. However, since 2002/2003, they have recovered steadily, thanks to stable economic growth with declining inflation and interest rates, which has helped to lift real wages. Credit has also become more readily available. Additionally, above inflation hikes to the minimum wage and increased government support for low-income households have helped boost earnings and reduce poverty.

In the period 2002-2006:

  • Per capita annual disposable incomes rose 3.1% in real terms;
  • The number of households with annual disposable incomes over US$10,000 rose by 31.6% to reach 7.1 million, representing 14.0% of the total, up from a 10-year low of 11.4% in 2002;
  • The number of households with annual disposable incomes over US$15,000 rose by 36.0% to 3.8 million, representing 7.4% of the total, from a 10-year low of 5.8% in 2002.
Annual household disposable income distribution: 2002 and 2006

Source: Euromonitor International from National Statistics.

However, notwithstanding an appreciable improvement in incomes among the lower and middle classes, the overall distribution of national income in Brazil remains extremely uneven:

  • In 2006, the richest 10% (Decile 10) accounted for 46% of national income. This is slightly higher than it was a decade ago (44%);
  • The share of the poorest 10% (Decile 1) has not improved at all, accounting for only 0.6% of national income in 2006.

As a result, the gap between the poorest and richest segments of the population remains stark:

  • In 2006, the richest 10% of the population earned almost 75 times that of the poorest 10%. By way of comparison, in Chile this ratio was 31.3 in 2006;
  • The richest 20% earned 7.6 times the poorest 40% in 2006.

In line with this, Brazil’s GINI-co-efficient, which measures the equality of income distribution (0= perfect equality, 1=perfect inequality), remains stubbornly high.

Evolution of earnings equality: 1996-2006
Decile 10/1065.868.270.372.073.574.9
Decile 10/405.
Decile 20/2026.026.727.327.928.328.8
Decile 20/407.
Gini co-efficient0.570.580.580.580.590.59
Source: Euromonitor International from National Statistics


The good news for Brazilian retailers and investors is that even a small rise in household incomes leads to increased consumption of goods and services:

  • In 2002-2006, consumer expenditure rose 9.7% in real terms;
  • Total store-based retail value sales rose 9.7% in real terms over the same period.

A steady increase in the availability of credit and cheap financing deals (in line with lower inflation and interest rates and a more confident banking sector) has encouraged increased consumption of non-essential goods, in particular durable goods like household furniture and electrical appliances:

  • The total number of credit card transactions grew 15.6% annually in the 12 months to May 2007, while the average amount of each transaction rose 4.6% annually in the same period;
  • Retail sales of furniture and white goods rose 16.1% annually (in volume terms) in the 12 months to June 2007.

Rising numbers of households with higher incomes have boosted consumer spending and domestic demand, supporting higher economic growth and encouraging additional investment:

  • Real annual GDP growth averaged 3.4% in 2003-2006, fuelled by strengthening domestic demand (private investment and consumption), which accounted for 77.2% of GDP in 2006.

Future scenarios

Brazil’s macroeconomic prospects are good and real GDP growth will increasingly be driven by stronger domestic demand:

  • Average real GDP growth is forecast at 3.7% in 2007-2011.

As domestic demand expands, businesses will continue to benefit from rising household incomes and faster consumer spending.

While household disposable incomes will continue to grow, the middle class in Brazil will remain proportionally smaller than in neighbouring countries:

  • By 2015, 7.5% of Brazilian households are expected to have an annual disposable income over US$15,000. This is still less than in Argentina (13.7%), Venezuela (16.7%), and Chile (33.1%).

However, by virtue of its large size ¬– it is by far the most populous country in Latin America ¬– and its young population (mean age 29.4 in 2006), Brazil is one of the most attractive new consumer markets in the world:

  • In 2006, the population was 189 million. It will rise to 210 million by 2015;
  • There were 86.8 million people aged 20-49 in 2006. By 2015, this will rise to 93.8 million.

This makes it an essential destination for global companies keen to grab a slice of the rapidly emerging domestic market.