Australian families reveal seven changes to food buying habits

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 9th July 2009

Consumer cut backs on discretionary spending have been well documented over the past year, but how has the economic downturn affected the simple Australian family dinner?

New research from leading parenting site, together with and, has revealed insights into the changes made in food preparation, takeaway purchases and dining habits due to the economic conditions.

Mother shopping with child

The recent survey of over 5,000 Australian families across the 3 female-skewed websites found 97 per cent consider it important to sit down together as a family to eat their nightly meal. The economic turbulence has had an impact on the family dinner, however, with 46% of respondents now eating more home cooked meals now than a year ago, with the primary reasons being to either save money (65%) or to ensure they eat healthily (62%). Indeed, 90 per cent of families have a home cooked dinner 5+ nights per week.

According to the Kidspot survey, one third of Australian families have changed their dinner habits due to the economy.

“We need to generally save dollars any way we can,” one survey respondent explained. “Food is our biggest outlay so that is where we try to cut back. We use cheaper brands, only buy when certain things are on special, and eat out less.”

This trend was forecast by Nielsen in October last year and confirmed by their April 2009 consumer study, which found around two in five were cutting down on takeaway meals and buying cheaper grocery brands.

Kidspot’s research identified 7 key changes to food purchasing habits in response to the economic downturn:

1. More bulk buying and bulk cooking. The rise in grocery prices has led more respondents to bulk buy when things are on special and freeze for future use, especially meat. Bulk cooking has also come into vogue, allowing for more leftovers to be used for cost-efficient lunches.

2. Buying home brands over name brands. Home brands (private label) now have greater acceptance by consumers at the expense of brand names. Home brand products are most likely to be considered for every day staples like tinned tomatoes, flour, rice, butter and bread.

3. Cutting back on meat or buying lesser cuts of meat. Respondents reported replacing steak with lower cuts of lamb for stews and casseroles and limiting fish to once a week. As one respondent put it – their family is “eating more bulked foods like mince because it goes further and its cheap…I would rather be eating no red meat but it’s a lot cheaper than chicken and fish every night”.

4. Using vegetables as a money saving substitute to meat. For many families, the gap left by the cutback in meat has been replaced by more vegetarian meals throughout the week. Some reported buying cheaper cuts of meat yet increasing their vegetable and fruit intake, while others had completely substituted meat for vegetarian options.

5. Planning purchases to avoid impulse buys. It seems the economic downturn has taken the spontaneity out of mealtime with the household shopping trip becoming a carefully planned military operation. Mothers now leave the house for their weekly (not daily) shop armed with a list in hand, more likely gleaned from the catalogue-advertised specials, to purchase items that contribute to the family’s weekly menu plan. Organisation is key, with weekly bulk-cooking preventing families from eating expensive takeaway meals as a fall back option.

6. Greater price awareness and price comparison. Convenience may be the trade off for cost savings with survey respondents saying they compare prices across retail options to ensure they get the best deal possible. This can mean buying fruit and vegetables from markets, meat from independent butchers and other items from supermarket chains only when they’re on sale.

7. Eating less takeaway. Takeaway is now considered a splurge and an easy thing to cut back on to save. It’s become an expensive exercise to feed a family on takeaway, with most reporting that this has directly resulted in more home cooked and prepared meals. Nevertheless, although Australians are eating less takeaway, 61% of families still have takeaway at least every 2 weeks. This figure drops substantially to 41% of households with no dependants under 18 years of age living at home.

“I’m certain Australian grocery retailers and FMCG marketers have already seen these changes first hand in their market reports,” Kidspot CEO, Katie May, said. “Our findings have come from the hearts and minds of those leading the charge – the Australian mums. For some time now we’ve seen an ongoing conversation happening within our online community that revolves around the need to save money in an economic downturn.”

In general, Australians’ main meal is prepared at home, on the day (94% of respondents). Most people surveyed said that they use either all fresh or 75% fresh ingredients in the making of their evening meal (82%) and one quarter consult recipes weekly – with recipes sourced online 82% more often than in magazines.

“The modern Australian mum has had to reassess her purchase decisions of late and in many instances has drastically changed the way she has previously shopped for her family,” May concluded.