A closer look at the Australian grocery industry as recession is dodged

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 28th January 2010

The key food sectors in Australia are weathering the global recession well, the latest research from Leatherhead’s Global Food Markets shows, with frugalism far less prevalent than in most other global markets.

Woman Supermarket Shopping

Although there are signs that consumers have begun to economise during the slowdown, many sectors reported strong growth in 2008, with 2009 sales estimates also positive.

Baby food sales, for example, rose 8.8% in 2008 with 2.8% growth forecast for 2009, reflecting a trend towards higher quality and more expensive products, as well as increased costs of raw materials being passed on by manufacturers.

Chocolate sales were up 6.1% in 2008 with sales likely to have risen about 3.9% in 2009. Much of the recent market growth can be attributed to the increasing popularity of premium chocolate, especially in sectors such as boxed and bite-sized chocolate assortments. In addition, sales of everyday blocks and countline products have also held firm. Sugar confectionery has also been buoyant, up 5.8% in 2008 and an anticipated 3.7% in 2009. Growing consumer interest in healthier varieties of sweets has been the key, with sugar-free products featuring strongly. Medicated confectionery has also performed well of late, the researchers found.

Sales of coffee grew 7.5% in 2008 and are 25% higher than in 2005, due to a trend towards specialty instant and roast coffees. A further rise in value of 5.3% was predicted for 2009.

In ice cream, sales of premium and indulgence products held firm in 2008, despite the squeeze on spending power during the downturn. Sales through grocery channels were up 5.9% in 2008 and likely increased 4.8% during 2009.

Compared to European standards, per capita consumption of bottled water is relatively low in Australia at around 25 litres but consumption levels have been growing and sales in value rose 12.0% in 2008 with an increase of 8.3% predicted for 2009. Sales of more expensive smaller formats for children along with the success of vitaminised products targeted at adults have contributed to growth.

The sauces market is one sector that has benefited from the tendency for consumers to economise and prepare meals from scratch at home in place of dining out, as convenience and ease of use have become a key selling point. Overall sales of sauces in 2008 reached $998m, up 4.0% on the previous year, and, with 3.1% growth likely in 2009, sales have probably now topped $1 billion.

Asian influences have been a major trend in terms of flavour development, meanwhile. Soups based on traditional Far East Asian recipes as well as Latin tastes, which are spicy and often incorporate beans and lentils, have proved successful. In recent years, Asian savoury snack foods have become more popular, although their level of sales remains modest. Australian consumers have developed a taste for ethnic cuisine, with Indian, south-east Asian, Mediterranean and Latin recipes all proving popular and currently accounting for 75% of ready meal sales.

M&A Activity
Since 2007, considerable merger and consolidation activity has taken place in the market-place as the industry moves into a phase of maturity and as many domestic and foreign companies alike are looking to take advantage of opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.

As a result several key sectors have become increasingly dominated by a handful of players, for example:

(Sector – % held by top 3 – key players)

Carbonates (retail sales only) – 88% – Coca-Cola, Schweppes (Asahi-owned), Pure & Natural
Frozen ready meals – 88% – McCain, Nestlé, Heinz
Baby foods – 85% – Heinz, Wyeth, Nutricia/Danone
Soups – 84% – Campbells, Heinz, Unilever
Chocolate – 81% – Cadbury, Nestlé, Mars
Breakfast cereals – 80% – Kellogg’s Nestlé, Sanitarium
Dried pasta – 75% – San Remo, Barilla, Rinoldi
Fruit juice & drinks – 73% – National Foods/Kirin, Golden Circle, Pure & Natural
Coffee – 72% – Nestlé, Sara Lee, Cantarella
Ice cream (retail sales only) – 71% – Nestlé, Unilever, Bulla
Savoury snacks – 71% – Smiths, Snack Brands Australia, Procter & Gamble
Mineral Water – 70% – Coca-Cola, Pure & Natural, Schweppes