REAL AUSTRALIA

Voices of Real Australia: What is the new normal?

After a tumultuous 15 months, the way we spend money on food is starting to look a little more familiar - lockdowns withstanding. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
After a tumultuous 15 months, the way we spend money on food is starting to look a little more familiar - lockdowns withstanding. Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

IT SEEMS a little counterintuitive to type this while we've got one state locked down and borders back under police guard, but it actually seems that things are returning back to normal.

Some of the standout memories from last year are of supermarket shelves stripped bare from panic-shopping and of restaurants and cafes standing empty, or half-full as they met stringent restrictions on the number of people per square metre.

For those supplying these restaurants and cafes, there was also a big hit as they had to reassess their marketing.

As Rabobank senior analyst Michael Harvey put it, these markets were "hit with a blunt instrument".

There are a lot of people whose job it is to study these things and some of the big trends from last year they discovered were people spending more in supermarkets and other retail spaces, with mince and flour and sugar stripped from the shelves so people could do more home cooking and baking.

And then things opened up again.

And, by the looks of things, that came with some spending.

Mr Harvey says Australia's spending now is largely back to the same levels as it was in 2019.

People are eating out more. But as well as that, since people are heading back to the office again and into shopping centres.

"That's more likely to trigger the impulse product pick up, such as a bakery item or takeaway coffee," Rabobank's Tim Hunt said.

There has also been a change in the way we approach grocery shopping.

Sunday is popular again, instead of shopping throughout the week. We're also making fewer trips to the supermarket but when we do go, we tend to stock up a little more.

"It's fewer trips but larger baskets," says NeilsenIQ analyst Lewis Muscat.

While consumer behavior was largely back to normal, Mr Harvey said there were some permanent shifts, accelerated by the pandemic.

We want healthy food, that will hopefully boost our immune system; we want less waste in packaging; we prefer established brands; snacking is popular - as always - but the way we snack has changed, with more people at home and wanting healthy foods; plant-based foods are on the rise; and we want online shopping - which has meant many food service businesses have really had to kick their digital skills into gear.