Australia: a nation of passionate foodies

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 17th March 2009

Australia is a nation of foodies who love to entertain at home and feel buying locally grown produce is important, according to the March 2009 Sensis Consumer Report released today.

We are also becoming increasingly allergic to a range of foods, rely heavily on the convenience of supermarkets and are overlooking the once national drink of beer for coffee and wine. The Aussie pie and the English breakfast have made way for fruit and steak as our favourite foods, while favourite meal choices are often determined by home suburb and pay packet.

Report author, Christena Singh, said the report suggested food was much more than a mere necessity for many Australians. “About four in 10 Australians believe food is one of life’s passions, with the residents of the national capital most enamoured with food,” she reported.

Despite suggestions of a rapid increase in home-cooked meals, the report shows there has only been a marginal increase in the evening meal being prepared in the home.

“Australians have an overwhelming preference for home-cooked meals, with some 79 per cent of all evening meals being prepared in the home,” Ms Singh noted. “Interestingly, this has increased by only one percentage point over the last three years.”

On average, Australians are eating a meal at home about six days per week, approximately five of those are cooked at home and one take-away or delivered meal. The number of times Australian eat at home per week reduces proportionally with income.

It appears the gender divide also still exists when it comes to cooking, with males having a meal cooked for them in the home approximately three times per week while women average once per week.

On average, Australians cook for friends about once a fortnight, with Territorians significantly more likely to have friends over for dinner.

“Good food and good company appear to be an important part of the Australian lifestyle,” Ms Singh added.

Couple shopping for meat in a supermarket

When it comes to purchasing food, the report established four in five shop mainly at a supermarket, just over 10 per cent purchase mainly from the local store, while only four per cent shop at a produce or famers’ market.

The popularity of produce or farmers’ markets nearly doubles for those in the highest income brackets and for those in their 40s. Victorians and Canberrans are also most likely to purchase food from markets.

Take-away food is the second most popular choice for Australians’ main meal, accounting for nine per cent of evening meals (or purchased an average of 34 times per year).

Eating at a restaurant accounts for eight per cent of our meals (or approximately 30 times per year).

Ms Singh reported an increase in the proportion of Australians purchasing home delivered meals. “Home delivered meals have almost doubled over the last three years, probably due to increasing time pressures and competing commitments between work and home,” she advised.

Overall, home delivered meals account for five per cent of Australians’ meals, up from three per cent just three years ago.

When it comes to the origin of our favourite cuisine, Australians look to southern Europe and Asia, with Chinese and Italian food followed cllosely in popularity by Thai and Indian food.

Six in 10 Australians said their favourite cuisine was either Chinese or Italian. However, Chinese has slipped slightly as the nation’s top nosh, down two percentage points from 32 per cent in 2006. Italian has improved slightly in popularity, up from 29 per cent to 30 per cent.

Thai (27 per cent), Indian (17 per cent), Mexican (four per cent) and Vietnamese (three per cent) cuisines have all improved slightly in popularity over the last three years.

Food preferences vary considerably around the nation. Italian is the number one cuisine in Victoria and South Australia, while Thai takes top billing in New South Wales. For all other states and territories, Chinese cuisine is either the top or equal top choice.

Australian or English cuisine is the leading choice for 13 per cent of Australians, unchanged over the past three years. The preference for traditional cuisine is strongest in Tasmania (23 per cent), with those on lower incomes (16 per cent) and with older Australians (27 per cent).

Chocolate, meat pies and an English breakfast do not rank close to the top of the list of favourite foods, in what may be a surprise to some.

Overall, fruit (11 per cent) is most pleasurable to Australians’ pallets, followed by steak (eight per cent), roasts (seven per cent), vegetables (six per cent), pasta (six per cent), chocolate (six per cent), chicken (six per cent) and seafood (five per cent).

West Australians have the biggest appetite for pasta (13 per cent) while Northern Territorians love their steaks (14 per cent) and Canberrans and Tasmanians have the biggest sweet tooth for chocolate (eight per cent each).

Beer and meat pie

Ms Singh also said the report debunked the long-held notion that Australians were beer guzzlers.

Our favourite alcoholic drink, according to the research, is wine (38 per cent), significantly ahead of beer (26 per cent) and spirits/mixers (14 per cent). Spirits/mixers are the drink of choice for 18-19- year-olds (56 per cent) and beer is most favoured by 20-29-year-olds (32 per cent).

One in five Australians said they did not drink alcohol.

Coffee has come in as Australia’s most popular non-alcoholic beverage (25 per cent), narrowly ahead of tea (24 per cent) and water (24 per cent). Coffee is most popular in Tasmania (33 per cent), while water is most popular in New South Wales and Victoria (26 per cent).

The report also suggests Australians are increasingly discerning about where food comes from and its composition. “Eating Australian-grown produce is considered very important to most of us, with eating low-fat food almost as important,” Ms Singh said. “While organic food has a dedicated following of consumers, most Australians did not feel that eating organic food is important to them.”

Nine in 10 Australians believe eating Australian-grown food is important, with almost six in 10 of these believing it was very important to them. And, when it comes to eating low-fat food, eight in 10 Australians feel it is important and almost five in 10 of these believe it is very important.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, five in 10 Australians said eating organic produce was not important to them. Eleven per cent said it was very important while 37 per cent said it was somewhat important.

The Sensis Consumer Report also highlighted the increasing prevalence of food allergies amongst the Australian population.

Twenty per cent of Australian households contain a member that has a food allergy, with females more likely than males to suffer. Households in the Northern Territory and Tasmania are more predisposed (29 per cent) followed by households in the ACT (25 per cent).

Milk and dairy, seafood and nuts are the most frequently occurring allergies in Australia.

Fourteen per cent of households with children reported a child with an allergy. Of these, 25 per cent have a nut allergy, 14 per cent have a milk allergy, while eggs account for 12 per cent of children’s allergies.

The full report can be found at: www.about.sensis.com.au/resources/scr.php.