The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic triggered various different trends in the Australian food and beverage industry, but in Drakes Supermarkes’ home turf South Australia, none has been as obvious as the uptick in local product purchases.
“COVID-19 really kicked this off and made people more aware, we’re definitely seeing that people especially here in South Australia are wanting local products a lot more and are sticking to these choices,” Drakes Supermarkets Director John-Paul Drake told the audience at the recent Food South Australia Summit.
“It’s not just produce, it’s also the choice of retail because now they’re not shopping around in different supermarkets as much and instead coming back to places they know and trust [like the independents where they can have assurance] they are really spending their money to buy local.”
Drakes Supermarkets Founder and Managing Director Roger Drake AM added that this trend is particularly strong in South Australia, but is similar across the country such as in Queensland where the chain also has presence.
“Queensland is a pretty different market, but the people still want local products,” he said.
“There are some good local firms born in Queensland such as Bundaberg of course, but South Australian brands such as Beerenberg (jams and condiments) and San Remo (pasta) are also [on consumers’ lists].
“Basically the idea [for all domestic brands] is, if you have a good product, it will sell here.”
Roger also urged local food companies with new products to look beyond trying to get ranged at the national supermarket majors Woolworths and Coles, but start with independent supermarket chains where there is better chance for entry and more opportunity to progress.
“Start with going to the independents first, not the chains, there is no doubt about it,” he said.
“Many local food brands which are now doing very well for themselves all started with independents, from Golden North ice cream to San Remo pasta and more – they weren’t forced to start with 10 whole pallets for the big chains, no, they just had to start with half a dozen cartons and got to deal on a direct basis [with the stores instead of navigating all the red tape] too.”
Drakes Supermarket is based in South Australia and was formerly part of the Metcash/Foodland Group before splitting to go independent in 2019. With over 60 stores in the country, it is currently Australia’s largest independent supermarket chain.
In addition to the rise of local products, both Drakes agreed that healthier options are the future for the food industry - and supermarkets – moving forward.
“Whether it’s gluten-free, organic and all that, healthy options is where it’s all going - People want to live longer, eat better, know where the product from, what’s in it, and where it’s going to be,” said Roger.
“People are also becoming more time-poor now and want to just walk in and have choices [of what to eat for dinner] so we’ve made sure that we have ‘kitchens’ in our stores to have hot, prepared food for them to choose.”
John-Paul added that supermarket aisles are also changing in response to these trends, where health food is increasingly becoming less segregated from regular foods.
“For newer stores, it’s no longer just having four health food sections in-store, but has transitioned such that the health foods are now mixed in with everyday products,” he said.
“So it is common now for say a healthy [cereal] to be found next to coco pops – and along with this, many big food firms are trying hard and placing a lot more focus on getting five-star [Health Star] Ratings, so along with that there are more healthier products which are coming through.”
Drakes also recently made the news when John-Paul uploaded a series of satirical videos online mocking customers who had stolen a good amount of product from Drakes Supermarkets, most notably premium meat products.
“People have been stealing high-end meat products from us like wagyu and Angus beef – and [we have been told] that this is not to feed families but likely to swap for drugs, and we are sick of it so the videos were to call them out,” he said.
Drakes received some lashback over the videos for shaming and possibly being less than compassionate over people going through tough times, but John-Paul has stood by the videos and not taken them down as of time of publishing.
“One lady did this six times in two weeks, clearing out A$400 (US$303.50) to A$500 (US$379.37) at a time, so clearly it was not just to eat,” he stressed.