What new eating trends mean for small business

It was inevitable it would happen, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has pushed the fast-forward button. The way Australians are eating has changed. They’re consuming less meat and it’s not just an adjustment of their taste buds – the pandemic has caused global supply chain issues and a focus on health and safety issues.

Some have reacted quickly, creating positives from the rapid changes. As an example, local Melbourne company Flexitarian Foods launched its Plantein range of plant-based protein products, including burgers, schnitzels and nuggets made from soy protein, earlier this year in the midst of the pandemic.

Of course, the range, created to be healthy, environmentally friendly, big on taste and 100 per cent Australian made, was already being planned, but the outbreak of COVID-19 didn’t harm its introduction to the market. The uptake, says Flextarian Food’s managing director Evan Tsioukis, has been excellent, with demand from stockists, including Woolworths and IGA, increasing month on month since launch. The company is looking to add at least another 10 products to its range in 2021, and there has been interest from overseas markets.

Research conducted by Mintel backs Plantein’s findings. In Australia, consumer attitudes towards meat have changed. The newly launched consumer data tracker tool Mintel Global Consumers shows 38 per cent of consumers here agree the COVID-19 pandemic proves humans need to eat fewer animals, 17 per cent are contemplating eating fewer animal products (both dairy and meat), and 34 per cent limit their meat intake most or all of the time.

Those who still include meat in their diet have also indicated they want to eat better quality meat. But it goes further than meat and dairy products. Food miles, particularly when it comes to perishable goods, are important to many consumers, and have become only more so now that COVID-19 has highlighted health risks in production and supply chains.

Consumers want to know that their pork roast didn’t come from animals raised in a sow stall, but more broadly they want to learn where their carrots were grown and whether the bees that made their honey were feasting on leatherwood flowers or white clover. They want to know also that workers are being paid fairly and treated properly, which is far easier to assess at a micro level than it is when you’re dealing with huge chains. That all bodes well for small businesses, whether producers or retailers, who can highlight their local credentials.

So, how does this help small business? The good news is, for the moment at least, local is king, and that is unlikely to change when the rest of life returns to normal. Given a taste, if you’ll excuse the pun, of playing a part in the lifecycle of what they eat or consume will come as second nature to customers and you’ll likely find many will stick with buying from the local butcher, the farmers’ market or from stores stocking locally made preserves once we’re through the worst of the pandemic.

Now might seem like a time of great uncertainty, but the increasing interest in and market for product that clearly displays provenance – whether on the packaging, a sign at the greengrocer or the ingredients list on a cafe menu or personal care product – will prove an opportunity for those who can tilt their businesses in that direction. For most people, local equals honesty, integrity and safety, so there’s never been a better time to take those values on board and reframe your small business around them.

Daisy Li, Associate Food and Drink Director, Mintel

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