The Portuguese are the European Union's keenest purchasers of food and soft drinks, considering annual household spending, according to European Union statistical agency Eurostat.

Portugal's consumers devoted 18.5% of their spending on food and non-alcoholic drinks in 2001 and 2000 - the latest available comparative statistics.

Second were the Greeks - 16.9%, and Spain third - 15.2%, reflecting common patterns about poorer countries spending comparatively more on food.

Among richer EU countries the highest spenders were the French and Italians at 14.4%. Across the EU, the lowest spending country was Britain - 9.7%, with Ireland second lowest at 10.7%.

Other results were Belgium 13%, Denmark 12.9%, Finland and Sweden 12.8%, Austria 12.6%, Germany 12.3% and the Netherlands 11.6%.