Flooding and Yasi reduce vegetable buying

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 3rd May 2011

With retail prices soaring, new research suggests Australians are likely to eat less fruit and vegetables in coming months, as fresh produce feels the impact of the floods and Cyclone Yasi.

The banana and broccoli industries have been particularly badly hit with supply shortages and quality problems, rendering Australia’s favourite fruit and the popular vegetable particularly vulnerable.

The Nielsen Company surveyed over 1500 consumers online about their buying behaviour following the natural disasters, with only 20% of respondents saying that banana prices over $7 per kilo would not change their buying habits, and 19% saying that they would not replace their purchases of the popular fruit with any other fruit.

Of those consumers who said they would buy fewer bananas, 80% would replace bananas with an average of five other fruit varieties. Apples were recorded as the main banana substitute, with 49 percent of consumers stating that they would buy apples instead of bananas, followed by grapes (32%), oranges (28%), strawberries (27%), nectarines (26%) and pears (26%).

“Bananas and apples are the favourite fruit snack as they’re both easy to eat and convenient to carry. With the higher banana prices, consumers will be seeking alternatives, and this provides an opportunity for suppliers in other fresh fruit categories, at least until the banana supply is re-established in late winter,” commented Michael Locke, associate director and fresh produce specialist for The Nielsen Company.

Over in the vegetable category, it’s a similar story for broccoli. As many as 76% of consumers said they regularly bought broccoli, but half those said they would reduce their broccoli purchase if the price rose above $5-6 per kg. Of those, 45% said they would purchase cauliflower instead, 36% beans, 33% zucchini, 31% spinach, 26% carrots and 26% bok choy. 16% would buy nothing instead.

According to research undertaken by The Nielsen Company in quarter one of this year (17-23 February), Australians are likely to be eating less fruit and vegetables in coming months as retail prices soar after floods and Cyclone Yasi devastated many key agricultural areas. Over 1,500 consumers were surveyed online about their likely buying behaviour following the natural disasters, which have led to major supply shortages and quality problems, especially in the banana and broccoli industries. Bananas are an Australian household favourite, with 87 percent of consumers’ surveyed claiming regular purchase, on average about every two weeks. However, when asked what they would do if the price was to exceed $7.00 per kilo, only one in five said they would continue to buy the same amount of bananas they were buying before Cyclone Yasi hit. According to Nielsen’s research, 19 percent of consumers said they would not replace bananas with any other fruit purchase.

“Our research shows that almost half of consumers surveyed would switch to cauliflower if broccoli was to increase to $5-6 per kilo as a result of the recent flooding. There are again a number of opportunities for vegetable suppliers to fill this gap.

“The impact of high prices is confirmed by our Nielsen Homescan panel, which shows total household purchase volumes of both fresh fruit and vegetables in the March quarter 2011 are nine percent below the same period last year, even though value is up by seven percent. Interestingly, while the majority of households in Australia also buy fruit and vegetables in canned or packaged form, over half claimed they would not increase purchases of these forms to replace fresh.

“Overall, the natural disasters of recent months are likely to impact the healthy eating habits of Australians in the short-term, with fewer fresh fruit and vegetables being consumed until retail prices fall back to more normal levels, but until this happens, there will be a lot of movement between the fresh produce categories as shoppers seek the best value solution for their budgets,” Locke said.