Back to FISH COVID19 Special Issue 1
PUBLISHED 15 May 2020

As feeding ourselves and our families becomes a much more considered activity in this era of physical distancing and travel restrictions market research is already putting numbers to changing food shopping and consumption patterns across Asia and Australia. Research is also looking to identify changes in the longer-term ‘intentions’ of consumers, post-pandemic, which could reshape supply chains more permanently.

By Catherine Norwood

Key points

  • Understanding new food-buying trends is crucial for exporters to target these markets and provide the in-demand products.
  • Eating habits are changing around the world, and a trend towards eating at home is likely to be a permanent lifestyle change post-pandemic.
  • A study reveals a growing ‘homebody’ mindset, where health and technology will influence consumer spending and shopping habits in the short and longer term.



Trends in Asia

Global market analytics firm Nielsen has evaluated markets in 11 Asian countries, several of which have experienced extended lockdowns in efforts to control outbreaks of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

Markets studied include mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. Other countries in the study were Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Several of these countries are crucial to Australia’s premium seafood exports that target the high-end food service sector. For exporters, understanding these global trends will become important in continuing to target these markets with the right product offerings.

Vaughan Ryan, managing director of Nielsen South-east Asia, says the study shows consumers in Asian countries are rethinking how they will eat post-COVID-19.

Many are indicating they will make eating at home regularly a permanent lifestyle change. Of the 11 countries in the study, only Japanese and Indonesian consumers said they were less likely to change their eating habits as a result of the global pandemic (see Figure 1).

On the Chinese mainland, 86 per cent of consumers said they would eat at home more often than before the outbreak. A similar trend was observed in other markets, with 77 per cent of consumers in Hong Kong planning to eat at home more often than before the event. In each of South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam, that number was 62 per cent.

The study also found a high demand for more takeaway food and home deliveries of food, particularly in Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand. These markets epitomise ‘on-the-go’ lifestyles and value the convenience on-the-go food offerings bring.

The findings have implications for restaurants and other out-of-home businesses, and could also affect the way retailers stock their stores to meet these emerging new levels of demand.

Even when eating meals prepared by others, the data suggest more of these meals will be purchased to eat at home, to which Vaughan Ryan suggests more permanent change may be occurring.

“Consumer thinking and actions have been reoriented, and this will have long-term consequences. For many, old habits like eating out may forever be replaced by new habits, more apt to new, altered environments.

“Not only will consumers reassess where they’re eating, but they will also be far more cognisant of what they’re eating,” he says.

A separate study undertaken in mainland China as it emerges from quarantine reveals a growing ‘homebody’ mindset, where health and technology will influence consumer spending and shopping habits in the short and longer term.

Australian shopping

More detailed data collected through Nielsen Homescan in Australia shows the average Australian household has enough essential food supplies to last the next few months as coronavirus-related restrictions and lockdown laws continue to play out.

Sarah Deas, director of Nielsen Connect, Pacific, says volume sales for long-life meals, bread mix, rice, flour and pasta more than doubled in the four weeks ending 22 March 2020, compared with the same period last year.

Based on previous years’ spending, this means the average Australian household has enough of these items in the pantry to last two to three months.

Of foods that showed the most substantial growth in demand, canned fish ranked 11th and was the only seafood product identified (see Figure 2).

“More time at home will give rise to more cooking and baking from scratch as consumers find creative ways to use up their pantry staples,” Sarah Deas says.

“There is also an increase in sales for convenient meal options that also cater to smaller-person households or those that are juggling the various demands of working from home and home-schooling.”

She says in the future, brands that focus on health and fitness are likely to see strong demand from consumers who place renewed importance on staying healthy – a trend already emerging in Chinese consumer markets.

“With more time on their hands and lots of carbs and other pantry staples to use up, we expect to see Australian households make more of an effort to cook from scratch and attempt to make meals outside of their usual repertoire.”

Moving online

Nielsen Digital Content Ratings data shows that on the last weekend of March, Australians spent 71 per cent more time online with food and cooking content when compared with the last weekend of February.

The biggest single day for Australians visiting online cooking sites in 2020 was Sunday 29 March, with a combined total of 63,555 hours spent on these sites.

The Nielsen Homescan data also reveals Australians are getting more adventurous with their cooking ingredients, with volume sales of Asian and Indian cooking items up 126 per cent and 187 per cent, respectively.

Nielsen Homescan research is also measuring a significant increase in online grocery shopping, as many consumers look to limit their exposure to large crowds in-store.

In the four weeks to 22 March 2020, Australian online grocery sales increased more than 45 per cent compared with annual online growth of 34 per cent recorded in 2019.

However, a surge in online orders in March, combined with in-store shortages of many products, led Coles and Woolworths supermarkets to suspend online ordering and deliveries, which have since resumed.

Nielsen reports the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a new wave of growth for online grocery shopping and e-commerce, with consumers open to exploring alternative retailing options.

An effective online strategy is becoming increasingly critical for retailers and brands, and measuring the continued growth of this channel is key to understanding how it fits within shoppers’ buying patterns and overall spending repertoire.


The FRDC has commissioned market research from Nielsen to identify the impact of COVID-19 on seafood retail sales in Australia, and consumer trends that the sector may be able to take advantage of. This research will be reported in the next issue of FISH Magazine.