Aussie spending big on fast food options

Nick Hall

Australians now spend a third of their weekly food budget on fast food, a new report from insurance firm NobleOak has confirmed.

According to the results, the fast food budget has risen from 25 per cent of total spend in 1988, to 32 per cent in 2019.

Leading the revolutionary change is younger Australians, aged 18 to 34, who spend as much as 38 per cent of their weekly food budget on fast food, more than any other age group. Additionally, more than half of respondents admitted to eating less than one portion of fruit or vegetables per day.

While the statistics are critical of the nation’s eating habits, the NobleOak report confirmed suspicions that the fast food industry has long held.

Fast food motivators

Driving the growing fast food spend are three key factors, convenience, ease and price. The report revealed that when it comes to dietary choices, convenience was the most significant aspect impacting choice, particularly among younger respondents.

Rachel Scoular, APD dietitian and nutritionist said that based on the current consumer culture, the focus on convenience was unsurprising.

“I think the main contributor is convenience. Third-party ordering apps such as Menulog, Deliveroo and Uber Eats make it easier than ever to buy fast food within minutes,” she said.

“In the past, fast food and takeaway usually meant Chinese food and pizza, mainly ordered on weekends. However, with the arrival of such apps we are now spoilt for choice with fast food options and accessibility, so we’re now seeing higher consumption rates throughout the week and not just on weekends.”

Of Australians within the 18 to 34 age range, 68 per cent reported that they were most likely to favour options that were easy to purchase, 63 per cent favoured foods that were quick to cook and 61 per cent said price was a major contributor.

On the opposite end of the spectrum however, older Australians had a complete value reversal. In the 55 years and older age range, 62 per cent of respondents cited healthy options are their go-to, with 52 per cent opting for easy to purchase goods and 51 per cent favouring products low in fat.

Scoular said that while the consumption of fast food was steadily climbing among young people, a number of lifestyle factors had also played their part.

“I think there’s a large difference in lifestyle between those aged 18 to 34 and their older counterparts. We are now working longer hours with longer commutes and have less time during the week for personal tasks such as cooking,” she said.

“There’s also the influence and pressure of keeping up with the Joneses, driven mainly by social media. There’s greater temptation to act on these impulses and purchase fast food now than in previous years.”

Evolving fast food landscape

The latest study comes less than a year after the National Health Survey revealed that more than two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese.

While the increase in fast food spending may indicate that figure will rise, some industry bodies believe it may open the door to new alternatives, particularly in the franchise sector.

IBISWorld Australia senior industry analyst, Bao Vuong said a trend towards healthy options that offer convenience is steadily gaining traction, however it may soften sector growth.

“Rising consumer demand for nutritious fast food is projected to drive the Fast Food and Takeaway Food Services industry’s revenue growth over the next five years,” Vuong said.

“However, continuing health consciousness trends will also hinder industry performance, especially for traditional operators, as consumers limit consumption of unhealthy food.”

Regardless of the developing health-conscious culture, Vuong said the fast-food sector would continue to be a significant economic contributor, with operators offering convenience and health at an affordable price point likely to benefit.

“Revenue is forecast to grow at an annualised 0.5 per cent over the five years through 2023-24, to $20.0bn,” he said.

“The addition of premium menu options is anticipated to support industry revenue growth.“