Aussie customers choosing imports over locally grown food

Posted by Josette Dunn on 14th May 2010

While Australian’s are spoilt for choice when it comes to the abundance of quality local produce available at our supermarkets and specialty stores, figures from business information analysts IBISWorld reveal that in some fresh and processed food sectors we are increasingly selecting imports over those home grown.In 2010, IBISWorld is estimating a significant 30% of our total seafood consumption will be made up of imports – equating to close to $1.05 billion in dollar terms, and 20.4% of our fruit and vegetables will be from overseas – valued at over $1.7 billion.

Explaining the growth in imports, IBISWorld General Manager (Australia), Mr Robert Bryant said there were a number of factors driving the trend.

“Determining factors vary across the different product segments, however include a decrease in local production and an increase in consumer demand for greater variety, through to the employment of clever marketing by international exporters,” Mr Bryant said.

Other imports expected to grow in popularity over the coming years include wine and meat, although as a lesser percentage of total consumption compared to seafood and fruit and vegetables.

SeafoodCurrently one of our largest food import groups, IBISWorld expects seafood imports to account for 30% of consumption in 2010. And the percentage of imported oceanic fare increases even more when it comes to processed products – which includes cooked prawns and frozen fish fillets – with IBISWorld revealing nearly 50% of all processed seafood consumed is imported, a figure expected to rise to 52.6% by 2015.

Mr Bryant pointed to falling domestic seafood production (down 2.9% per annum to close to 237,500 kilotonnes down from 284,300 kilotonnes in 2004-05., coupled with the growing demand for seafood by Australians as contributing to our growing imports.

Identifying the source of our seafood, IBISWorld revealed Thailand as the largest provider – accounting for 28.2% of all imports, followed by Vietnam (13.4%), China (12.5%), New Zealand (12.2%) and Other (33.7%) – with ‘Other’ referring to the rest of the world, with the largest contributors being Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Canada.

“In the last decade, Thailand, Vietnam and China have invested heavily in aquaculture, increasing capacity to become leading seafood exporters. In Australia the ‘Goong’ – or Thai prawn, is amongst the most popular seafood products,” Mr Bryant said. Others include:

Fruit & VegetablesIn 2010, IBISWorld expects our fruit and vegetable imports to be worth over $1.7 billion, representing 20.4% of total fruit and vegetable consumption.

“Breaking this down, 30% of all processed fruit and vegetables and 4.2% of all fresh fruit and vegetables consumed by Australians this year are likely to be imported,” Mr Bryant said.

“Over the past five years processed vegetable imports have increased steadily by 4.1% per annum, mainly driven by time poor Australians seeking quick and convenient food choices. Looking towards 2015 IBISWorld believe these processed imports will grow by a further 3.6% per annum to reach to $2.06 billion in value.”

New Zealand, the United States of America, China and Thailand are our primary import suppliers, with convenience foods such as individual serves of vegetables suitable for cooking in the microwave being the most popular product category.


“Since 2005 dairy imports – including ice-cream, cheese, milk powder, milk, cream and butter – have experienced significant growth of 7.1% per annum to be worth $682.7 million in 2010 (4.7% of domestic consumption), with growth being driven by the continuing drought and falling local production as well as the high Australian dollar making imports cheaper.”

Mr Bryant highlighted cheese as our most valuable dairy import (growing at 13.4% per annum from 2005-2010 to be worth $420.3 million), followed by butter (worth $155 million), and noted New Zealand as the leading source of imports.

“Increased interest in gourmet cheeses, promoted by celebrity chefs and TV shows such as MasterChef have also boosted demand for imported and exotic cheese – with Feta currently the fastest growing type of cheese in the Australian market,” Mr Bryant added.


Despite concerns over the possible lifting of bans on American and British beef imports being voiced, Australia remains a leading global producer of meat – exporting 1,339 kilotonnes worth $7.4 billion, in 2008-09.

As such, Mr Bryant said Australia imports less than 1% of all meat consumed – a figure that has remained constant since prior to the introduction of the ‘mad cow meat ban’ in 2002.

In terms of processed meat, Australia currently imports nearly 3.1% of our national consumption including bacon, ham, cured meats and salamis – and IBISWorld expects this to increase to 4.1% by 2015.

“Increased awareness of gourmet produce and changing consumer preferences has seen a growth in demand for imported processed meats, particularly from leading suppliers such as Canada, America, New Zealand and Denmark,” Mr Bryant mused.


With droughts and bushfires reducing wine quality, a grape glut reducing prices, and the global recession coupled with the high Australian dollar discouraging international consumption, the past few years have been tough on the Australian wine industry.

“Add to this increasing competition from imports – which have grown by 12.3% per annum over the five years to 2009-10, and it becomes apparent that the local industry is facing an uphill battle in stemming the popularity of imports,” Mr Bryant said.

New Zealand is our largest wine supplier accounting for 45% of total imports, followed by France (34%), Italy (9%), Spain (2%), Chile (2%), and Other (8%).

As a result of the high Australian dollar – making imported wines cheaper – and a growing interest in boutique wine varieties – especially from Spain, Italy and South America – IBISWorld expects imports will continue to grow by 4.1% per annum over the five years to 2015.

However, Mr Bryant said the future was certainly not all doom and gloom for Australia’s wine industry, explaining that although imports are expected to grow, their total share as a percentage of our wine market will remain steady.