Grocery Over the World in the Past 50 Years

Final Projects



Friday night 7:15 pm, you got just off work and decided to buy a salmon bento for dinner. You walked into a grocery shop few blocks away, picked up the last bento on the shelf with a bag of chips, and a soda. You went to the counter to pay your stuff and suddenly realized there was no more toilet paper roll at home. You quickly grabbed a roll of toilet paper and added a pack of Marlboro. This is your typical Friday night routine.

Interestingly enough, you might never pay much attention to how much groceries you buy in each visit, as these products are just consumable, which will be refilled in the next cycle. But these consumable usage data plays a vital role in reflecting the quality of people’s daily life.

In this final project, I will deploy data visualization to present the dramatic change in the usage of grocery items, explicitly focusing on toilet paper and cigarette consumption rate in the past 50 years all over the globe.


I used two dataset in this project contains 50 years of data set from toilet paper and cigarette consumption on a global scale. The first one is what I collected and refined in the previous project. I conbined a Household and sanitary papers dataset and Total population from  UNdata to calculate a capita comsumption of toilet paper. The second dataset is from International Cigarette Consumption Database.

I used Openrefine to merge and clean these two datasets,  Tableau Public to visualize the data.


My inspiration is from a previous project, HOW MUCH TOILET PAPER DO WE USE. I visualized the changes of toilet paper usage. After finishing that project, I thought that it still has a lot of possibilities and I’d like to develop more.

I plan to develop two things for this project: the first thing is to apply a stronger visual language to it, and another is to add more datasets to be compared with toilet paper.

For the first initial, I decide to make a dot matrix chart with custom shapes. I read some tutorials and eventually successfully created a dot-matrix chart with shapes of toilet paper and cigarette. Compare with other chart formats, a dot matrix chart is more direct and has a strong visual impact. In my chart, a toilet paper icon exactly represents one toilet paper roll. However, there are many decimals in data, for example, 1.202 rolls of toilet paper. I couldn’t figure out how to show part of the icon to represent the decimal. This is a challenge I could explore in the future.

The second thing I’d like to do is introduce more data, I found a cigarette consumption data that is perfectly fit my need. The cigarette data and my refined toilet paper data are in a very similar format, with country, year, and item consumption annually. At first, I tried to create two sheets for toilet paper and cigarette use separate data. But I found out that I could not build a cross-sheets filter, like country filter, and year filter to apply to two sheets at the same time. After consulting with my professor, I decided to merge these two data to make a new dataset. I used Tableau to connect these two data and export it as CSV. And then I used open refined to clean the data.

At last, I got one merged clean dataset ready to be used for visualization.

During the process, I have met tons of problems about making a matrix, saving the project, datasets, and filtering. I had to redo the project two or three times because I didn’t organize the data in the first step. luckily I have solved most of the problems with the help of my professor and reading lots of tutorials.


The final result of my project is a Tableau story which has two dashboards. The first dashboard give audience a detail view of each country’s toilet paper and cigarette consumption. With two dot matrix chart, audience can clearly see how many toilet paper and cigarette was used in a year.

The second dashboard is an animated bar chart that shows the changes over time. The audience can have a clear idea about the consumption changes in different countries in the last 50 years.

The result of my visualization gave me two surprises:

The poverty level of a county has not much relation to cigarette consumption. Even in a third world country, a person can smoke up to 6000 cigarettes per year. This status is not been affected by time.

China has become the world’s highest cigarette and toilet paper consumer. Back in 20 years people in China only used one roll of toilet paper per year. The need for cigarettes has raised exponentially in the past few years.

Reflection & Future Direction

Through the process of visualization my project in Tableau, I continued to explore new functionalities in the software, such as the dot matrix, adding custom icons in the unit chart, and introducing time based animated visualization for the first time. Tableau is indeed a powerful and handy tool for visualization. However I was struggling with the extracting data from Tableau, as I was not able to save my project via tableau public. It appears that public version does not allow users to save the project.

Tableau isn’t very compatible with word press. I tried to embed my tableau project on the wp website however it was not able to interact as I expected. I end up putting screenshots of my visualization. A major improvement on this function would be crucial.

In the future, I’d like to continue adding more grocery dataset to the visualization such as alcohol, sanitary items, or cosmetics. I believed that it will give audience a broader view of how life changed in different countries.


Poirier, Mathieu JP; Guindon, G Emmanuel; Sritharan, Lathika; Hoffman, Steven J, 2019, “International Cigarette Consumption Database v1.0”,, Scholars Portal Dataverse, V2, UNF:6:fRF3NMWpt9YJqJupSfe3Bw== [fileUNF]