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Unbalanced: COVID-19 Shifting Australian Dietary Habits

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by Liam Harrison
Jul 27 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a mixed effect on Australian dietary habits. Lockdown restrictions have limited consumers’ access to fast food and general takeaway meals, causing a shift to healthier home cooking. Falling incomes have also prompted more people to prepare cheaper home-cooked meals to stretch the budget. However, the stress of the pandemic has also contributed to an increase in consumption of preserved foods and alcohol.

Australians are consuming over 3000mg of sodium and 36 grams of saturated fat per day, more than 50.0% over the daily recommended intake. A CSIRO study conducted in June 2020 reported 31.7% of Australians have increased junk food consumption, and 34.2% have increased snacking. Two in five survey respondents reported they had gained weight during the outbreak, and 41.1% reported a reduction in exercise.

‘The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a rise in demand for snacks and preserved foods. Health consciousness has taken a back seat for some consumers with regards to regular diet and exercise, as lockdown restrictions have thrown their regular schedule into disarray,’ said IBISWorld Senior Industry Analyst, Liam Harrison.

The shift to home cooking has significantly boosted revenue for the Supermarkets and Grocery Stores industry, which grew by 4.6% in 2019-20 to $113.3 billion, and is expected to grow by a further 0.5% in 2020-21. In contrast, revenue for the Restaurants industry declined by 25.1% in 2019-20.

Soft drink decline during COVID-19

Despite Australians indulging in fattier and saltier foods, indulgence in sugary beverages has declined during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coca-Cola Amatil Limited, one of Australia’s largest sugary beverage producers, reported a total fall in sales volume of around 9.0% for 2019-20, as the lockdown significantly reduced demand from restaurants, cafes and pubs in the last quarter of the financial year. The Soft Drink and Pre-Packaged Food Wholesaling industry contracted by 11.0% in 2019-20.

‘Sugary beverages are often purchased with sit-down meals. The closure of the Restaurants and Pubs, Bars, and Nightclubs industries as a result of the Federal Government’s lockdown measures has led to a 1.2% decline in soft drink consumption in 2019-20. This decline may be permanent, as consumers adjust to new dietary habits created during the COVID-19 pandemic,’ said Mr Harrison.

Alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption per capita has fallen by 3.1% over the past five years, to 9.4 litres per year. Despite many hospitality establishments closing in the current year, research from the Australian National University and Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education has reported an increase in alcohol consumption throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘The research indicates that women have increased their alcohol consumption compared with men, particularly those with child caring responsibilities. For males, the greatest contributor to increased alcohol consumption has been the loss of employment or reduced work hours,’ said Mr Harrison.

Alcohol consumption is anticipated to remain high during 2020-21, even as states and territories ease restrictions, as habits developed during lockdown periods are likely to persist.

‘These trends are expected to support the Beer Manufacturing and Spirit Manufacturing industries. While wine production is anticipated to fall over the two years through 2020-21, this trend is largely due to the 2019-20 bushfire season reducing wine grape supply,’ said Mr. Harrison.

Health outlook

The level of obesity in Australia’s adult population is expected to rise to 70.3% in 2020-21, an increase from 69.0% in 2019-20. The ageing population is anticipated to continue driving growth in the obesity rate. Additionally, fat consumption per capita is forecast to rise, putting upward pressure on obesity levels in 2020-21.

‘Despite initiatives to improve the dietary habits of Australians, the ongoing domination of food supply by unhealthy fast foods, especially for young people, is expected to drive the level of obesity in Australia to 75.5% in 2024-25,’ said Mr Harrison.

IBISWorld reports used to develop this release:

For more information, to obtain industry reports, or arrange an interview with an analyst, please contact:
Jason Aravanis
Strategic Media Advisor – IBISWorld Pty Ltd
Tel: 03 9906 3647