Positive shifts: COVID-19 spurs Oman towards more sustainable and healthy food consumption

By Hui Ling Dang contact

- Last updated on GMT

The pandemic has brought about unexpected improvements in consumer dietary habits in Oman. ©Getty Images
The pandemic has brought about unexpected improvements in consumer dietary habits in Oman. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Oman, COVID-19, Sustainable consumption, Digitisation, Food waste

The pandemic has brought about unexpected improvements in consumer dietary habits in Oman, alongside the digitisation of food and grocery retail, increased intake of local products and growing awareness of food waste, a new study reports.

In the wake of disrupted food supplies caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, consumers worldwide have been prompted to reconsider how and what they eat, as well as their purchase decisions.

To examine the impact of the pandemic on dietary and grocery-shopping behaviours in Oman, a study including 356 consumers aged 18 years and above was conducted. Titled ‘Observations on Food Consumption Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Oman’​, the study is based on the results of an online survey held between 15 September and 10 October 2020.

Unlike other countries in the Middle East region, which saw a spike in excessive consumption of energy-dense ‘comfort foods’ amid the crisis, the Omani population displayed a shift towards healthier dietary habits, according to the survey findings.

Some 45.5% of respondents ate more fruits and vegetables, while 43% reduced intake of unhealthy snacks and 35.6% consumed less frozen foods.

As more people chose to have meals sent to their homes, food delivery apps like Talabat and Uber Eats have gained record growth since the start of the pandemic.

Furthermore, the perceived risk of virus exposure at retail stores accelerated digital adoption, with 28.1% of the respondents indicating an increase in online grocery shopping. For those who still visited the stores in person, 39.6% stated that they cut down on the frequency of shopping trips by buying more items each time.

Due to food safety concerns, 25.8% of the participants purchased more local food products.

“An increasing number of people want to know where their food originate from. A locally produced commodity is thought to be handled fewer times and therefore has a higher perception of safety. The increased consumption of local products may also be related to the disruption of global food supply chains,” ​explained the authors.

Favourable changes

In 2017, a survey found that 57.3% of women and 63.9% of men in Oman ate less than five portions of fruit and/or vegetables per day. There was also significant consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and foods that are high in sodium and trans fats.

Improved dietary habits among the population, as highlighted in the findings, will help reduce the rising prevalence of morbidities associated with over-nutrition and push forward Oman’s ‘Health Vision 2050’ initiative.

Thanks to mitigation efforts by the Omani government, the pandemic had little effect on food supplies or pricing in the country. These included maintaining a strategic food stockpile, development of e-platforms to promote sales of agricultural products, and tax exemption for essential food commodities.
The measures yielded a low prevalence of negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety and depression, among the people. In fact, 51.41% of the respondents reported feeling optimistic.

This was reflected through the low rate of panic buying, which is often triggered by a sense of uncertainty. More than 60% of the participants said that they did not hoard food items; on the contrary, there was a decrease in food waste, as consumers became more conscious of the amount of food that were being discarded.

These findings are especially important, as food wastage is a major problem in Oman. Compared to an average of 79 kg/capita in other high-income countries, 95 kg/capita of food is wasted in Oman every year.

“This suggests that the participants had adopted better storage and meal-preparation methods. It is a positive step towards more sustainable food consumption behaviours,” ​the authors concluded.

Source: PubMed Central

https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2021.779654

Observations on Food Consumption Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Oman”

Authors: Tarek Ben Hassen, et al

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