Getting to know you: How to reach Brazil’s burgeoning middle class

Europe is in crisis; the US is in the doldrums; China is worried about a property bubble; India has hit a rough patch. The world economy is not a pretty sight these days. Then there’s Brazil, whose 195 million people have never had it so good.

Not only is the country growing briskly (7.5% in 2010), it is also growing widely. Even in the northeast, traditionally one of Brazil’s poorest regions, and far from the economic center of gravity, the broad middle class (known officially as “Class C” and unofficially as the “belly of the market”) is swelling fast. More than half of households in the northeast are now Class C, compared to a third in 2006.  Look at it this way: There are now as many middle- and upper-class Brazilians as there are people in France and Britain combined. That is a remarkable economic achievement—and a big opportunity for business. Crucially, Brazil also has favorable demographics going for it. In 2030, about two-thirds of its population will be between 18 and 64 years old, a few percentage points more than now. While the percentage of over-65s will double, the country will still be relatively young and economically active—a considerable advantage over an aging China, Russia, Japan, Europe and US.

In short, for retailers and makers of everything from luxury goods to deodorant, Brazil is an important market that is on its way to becoming a crucial one. Consumption already accounts for 61% of GDP; in China, by comparison, the figure is 37%. And it is the middle class (known as Class “C” in the country’s official statistics) that is driving consumption; it accounts for more than half (52%) of consumption, as well as the majority of e-commerce sales.

So what characterizes Class C? And how can companies reach them?