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World’s fastest growing consumer … isn’t Chinese,

Burgeoning consumer markets usually bring the likes of China, India and Brazil to mind, but the top-five fastest growing ones aren’t the usual suspects, according to a fresh report from Euromonitor International.

The fastest growing consumer market in the world is Malawi, a landlocked country in Southeast Africa, with a small population of 16.4 million consumers, Euromonitor found after analyzing markets by expected consumer expenditure and annual real growth this year. Consumer spending in Malawi, which is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania, is set to grow 18.2 percent year-on-year in 2014, the report said.

Malawi’s total consumer expenditure will likely reach $5.6 billion by the end of this year, translating into spending of only $335 per capita, the research firm said.

The growth may be fast, but Euromonitor analysts cautioned that such a low level of spending inevitably limits business opportunities. Furthermore, finding ways to invest in Malawi can also be challenging, as barriers to investment include a shortage of foreign exchange and poor infrastructure.

“In the short term, consumer market growth in Malawi will be supported by the country’s improved economic performance (which will help to raise incomes) and slowing consumer price inflation (which will raise consumer demand),” Euromonitor said.

The second-fastest growing consumer market may also come as a surprise to many: Sierra Leone.

The small Western Africa country is set to see rapid consumer expenditure growth this year, at a rate of 14.7 percent on year in real terms, Euromonitor said.

Its market is even smaller than Malawi with 6.1 million consumers and total consumer expenditure at $4.3 billion this year, equating to a higher per capita expenditure rate than Malawi at $688, Euromonitor said.

But the analysts added the caveat that Sierra Leone has been in the spotlight this year due to a high number of cases of people contracting the deadly Ebola virus. As a result, forecasts for growth are likely to be revised downwards as the outbreak takes its toll, adding to the country’s challenges of poverty, youth unemployment, infrastructure deficit and corruption, it said.

In third place, central Asian state Turkmenistan has a consumer market set to expand 14.4 percent on year in real terms this year, Euromonitor said, supported by the fastest growth rate in annual disposable income globally.

Per capita consumer expenditure in Turkmenistan, which is slightly larger than California, will hit $3,594 in 2014, rising to $6,422 in 2020, it said.

“Rising incomes and a rapidly expanding middle class will create opportunities over the long term and across many sectors,” said Euromonitor, flagging communications, education, leisure and recreation as the most dynamic sectors.

Fourth in line is Saudi Arabia, which has the highest level of per capita expenditure out of the entire top five, the report found, set to reach $7,786 in 2014.

Saudi Arabia’s entire consumer market will reach $241 billion this year, and Euromonitor analysts have tipped hotels and catering as a sweet spot for consumer spending, with that sector’s spending set to rise 15.6 percent year-on-year in real terms in 2014.

Mongolia rounds out the top five, with a tiny population of 2.8 million people. The east central Asia country, bordered by Russia to the North and China to the east, south and west, is set to enjoy 11.8 percent year-on-year growth in consumer expenditure this year, with the average per capita spending level reaching $1,785, the report said.

Euromonitor warned that the country’s small population could restrict consumer demand growth in the future, but said nevertheless Mongolia is not to be ignored. It’s one of the world’s fastest growing economies and has taken enormous strides in tackling poverty and boosting incomes for consumers this year, it said.

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