It’s official: the Australians eat a lot of meat. Some statistics even suggest they eat more meat per capita than any other country in the world, including the US.
According to data from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), consumers are eating about 130 grams of meat per day, which includes beef, lamb, pork and chicken.
Go back to the 1960s and 1970s, and beef, mutton and lamb were the most-consumed meats by far. In fact, in the 1970s, about 80% of meat consumed was either beef or sheepmeat (including lamb and mutton).
However, the types of meat eaten by the Australian population have changed over the years – prompted by a range of factors including price, immigration – especially from Asia which favours meats such as chicken and pork, and changing consumer trends.
The most commonly consumed fresh meats are poultry (45%) and beef (39%) followed by lamb (9%) and then pork (7%). Consumption of game meats, such as kangaroo and venison, and organ meats, including liver paste, is low to negligible (source: MLA).
However, if you look at the figures for fresh and processed meats, such as ham and bacon, some interesting statistics arise. In 2015, a report by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences revealed that pork had overtaken beef to become the second most-consumed meat.
The challenge for the Australian consumer is what meat they should buy and where.
Australia’s food retail sector is dominated by both Woolworths and Coles. According to the Master Grocers Australia trade association, these two businesses are estimated to command an 80% market share. Aldi has been growing in popularity, opening its first store in 2001, and now boasts more than 470 outlets. Add into that the Independent Grocers of Australia (IGA), which numbers 2,100 independently owned branded supermarkets, and the raft of independent butchers to the mix and Australians have plenty of choice as to where to buy their meat.
According to Roy Morgan Research, published by the Australian Retailers Association, in 2016, butchers still hold a 23.5% share of the total fresh meat market, due to the amount their shoppers spend in an average week – AU$37.
While Woolworths accounts for a larger slice of the market, with 27.3%, their fresh meat customers spend a weekly average of $27 per shopper. Coles’ shoppers spend $25, representing a 23.2% market share, and IGA $22 or a 5.4% market share. Aldi’s dollar share of the fresh meat market was 7.6% or a weekly average of $22.
But wherever consumers buy their meat, chicken seems to dominate.
Vivien Kite, executive director of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, told GlobalMeatNews there has been a steady increase in chicken meat consumption in the country.
She says that major retailers sell around 38% of all chicken meat produced, with around 19% sold through quick-service restaurants and the remainder through wholesalers and the hospitality foodservice sector.
“Australians are some of the biggest consumers per capita of chicken. We are not witnessing any major slowdown and seeing increasing consumption,” says Kite.
“One of the most important things is that, compared to other meats, it is just such a great-value product. It is really competitively priced and people see it as good value. The research we have done in the past indicates that not only has it got the good-value attribute, it is really popular with the whole household.”
Despite the popularity of chicken, consumers are still sticking to some of their old habits and eating red meats such as beef, but not in the high volumes they may have done previously.
Speaking to GlobalMeatNews, Lisa Sharp, chief marketing and communications officer at the MLA, says the majority of consumers are still choosing ground beef, mince, sausages and rump steak when shopping for beef.
“In terms of value share, beef remains the undisputed leader. If we talk about volumes, chicken emerges as the winner, but you will typically only get around two percentage points between the two,” she says.
“When we start to think about meal occasions, lamb, beef and chicken are all consumed as a main part of a main meal. Pork still has a modest share of the main meal occasion.”
However, she admits that price is still a major factor in consumer decision-making, especially as consumer confidence is low in the current market.
“We are seeing that price has become even more of a driver in the products and proteins consumers choose. This has been driven on the back of some real concerns about housing affordability,” she says.
The cost of rent, mortgages and utility bills have all risen in recent years and are all affecting consumer purchasing behaviour.
“We are seeing more and more households with both adults in the workplace, and families remain the dominant household type. This is leading to a need for quick and convenient meals, particularly during the week and moving towards more home delivery,” she says.
The prevalence of convenience, eating out and everyday casual dining has been the driver behind this trend. Consumers are now more likely to buy meals in unplanned shops and are looking for quick options.
“Chicken is easy and cheap and can be cooked quickly. The challenge for beef is that there are a lot more cuts and maybe some lower confidence on how to cook them,” Sharp argues.
A prolonged drought in the country has led to higher cattle prices over the past three years. In fact, beef has been running at four times the price per kilo than chicken. While beef has lost some volume sales, it is holding its own with regards to frequency, but portion sizes are coming down, Sharp says.
However, it is at the weekend that beef and red meat makes its comeback with “passionate foodies”.
“They want to learn about different cuts and using different cooking techniques and actually see independent retailers and butchers are in a strong position. We are seeing modest growth in independent retailers,” she argues.
The major supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths have also worked to respond to these consumer trends by offering home delivery and collect options.
They have also evolved their offer with more convenience food options for the busy consumer. For example, Coles has promoted its ‘Feed your family for under $10’ with Australian chef Curtis Stone. Items such as penne pasta with pan-roasted butternut pumpkin and pork sausages are promoted within the stores.
However, Sharp says that, despite the penetration of the major supermarkets, Aldi is starting to have an impact on the sector.
“We are seeing Aldi pick up some good share of fresh meat sales and they are appealing to a wide range of demographics,” Sharp says.
While pork has grown overall in popularity, it has struggled to be the meat of choice for main meals for Australians.
Peter Haydon, general manager for marketing at Australia Pork, told GlobalMeatNews that pork has struggled with its perception, but has performed well with items such as ham and bacons.
“If you go back 10 years, Australians thought of pork as that slightly-off second cousin you see at weddings – and you enjoy their company, but you don’t think of them again until you go to the next one,” he says.
One area where pork has succeeded in Australia is being the meat of choice over the Christmas period. Haydon says while this is positive, it has also affected overall volume sales.
“We need to be in a position where pork is healthy enough to be everyday and special enough to be indulgent,” he argues.
There is also the consumer challenge in that beef mince and chicken breast are the “don’t-think-about choice” when they go into the supermarket, he argues.
Butcher Kev Brown has worked in the “beef capital” of Rockhampton for 27 years and has seen the trend change towards chicken and pork.
“I think the reason is that people are changing their eating habits as they are looking for healthier options,” he says.
“Plus, the fact that beef has got a lot dearer hasn’t helped the situation. This has meant they have transferred over to other products.”
Beef is still his top-selling item, closely followed by pork and chicken, but he admits that competing with the larger supermarkets is a challenge.
“It all comes back to plain old service and quality. It is the only way we can compete with them. Woolworths is the one-stop shop. This is our competition – not what they sell and not what they have got,” he argues.
“I am a strong believer that we source stuff with our hearts and they source stuff with their pocket. There are a lot of things we can do that they can’t do with our ingredients. We make all our own small goods, our own bacon and our own ham, and that is what keeps us going.”
He also sources local add-on products such as pickles, sauces and eggs to complement the meat products, which are proving popular with consumers.
However, one area of concern is consumer spending and Brown agrees with the view that consumers are reining this in.
“We have noticed that the people who used to buy rump and top-of-the-range steaks are now buying mince and sausages,” he says. “The people who were buying sausages are now buying chicken.”
Australian consumers show no sign of lowering their meat consumption. However, the types of meat and the change in eating habits have seen the Australian meat market change beyond recognition.