COVID-19 and fresh produce insights

13th April 2021 | Eativity editors

A study into consumer shopping and consumption behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role of Australian horticulture in helping people find health and wellbeing through the benefits of fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts. Australians also wanted to show their support for Australian growers by purchasing locally-made produce.

“COVID-19 has shown how valuable horticulture is to maintaining a mentally and physically healthy nation,” says Matt Brand CEO of Hort Innovation, the grower-owned, not-for-profit research and development corporation for Australia’s horticulture industry. “I think people can see that and that’s why they support Australian growers, who continue to work hard and deliver produce through challenging times.”

Getting creative in the kitchen

The pandemic resulted in one event that heavily impacted how we consume food: lockdown. A rise in cooking from home – especially cooking from scratch – meant that fresh, quality, Australian ingredients instantly became more important.

During 2020, Hort Innovation worked with research company Fiftyfive5 to provide the Australian horticulture sector access to regularly updated information about consumer attitudes and behaviours during the time of COVID-19 disruption.

Across the nine months that the monitor was running, they found the biggest concern Australians had was around their ability to find a job (50%). A similar proportion were worried about experiencing future waves, and these concerns translated into concerns about health and wellbeing for themselves and their families. These concerns had a profound impact on shopping and consumption behaviour.

Lockdown also had a profound impact on how we prepared food. No commuting and more time at home gave us the freedom to get creative in the kitchen. From sourdough to spaghetti sauce, Australians were getting busy making fresh food. Almost half of main grocery buyers reported cooking more meals from scratch and over a third reported doing more baking. This behaviour increased demand for fresh produce through retail channels.

4 in 10 buying more fresh produce

Australians looked more to fresh produce as core ingredients for their home-cooked meals. Between March and December 2020, on average, 39 percent more Australian grocery buyers reported buying more fresh produce as part of their shop. 

Maintaining a healthy diet became even more important as gyms and restaurants temporarily closed, with 39 percent of Australians wanting to cook more healthy and nutritious meals. The research saw considerable momentum for staple fruits with 34 percent reporting buying more bananas, 28 percent buying more apples, and 23 percent buying more oranges. The purchase frequency for staple vegetables such as carrots (28%), broccoli (25%) and mushrooms (24%) also increased.

Changes in values and behaviour

The research showed that buying food grown in Australia has become significantly more important compared to before the start of the pandemic. Sixty percent of main grocery buyers in Australia reported that buying Australian-grown food had become more important when choosing their fresh produce, while 42 percent of all main grocery buyers chose to buy Australian fresh produce to support local farmers.

The research also investigated snacking behaviours and found that 27 percent of Australians were eating more snacks. Compared to before the pandemic, many fresh produce categories were eaten more regularly as snacks, including berries, bananas and nuts.

“The pandemic impacted every element of the Australian way of life and drove behaviour change,” Brand says. “This meant consumers interacted with horticulture through the consumption of fruit, vegetables and nuts with meal preparation at home, through to people spending more time in the garden.”