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Consumer Lifestyles in Australia: Australian Diners Buck Worldwide Trends and Stick with Fast Food

By: Jennifer Elster

    A recent report from the BBC first highlighted one of the well-accepted stereotypes of Australia—“a sporty, outdoorsy place full of fit people and open spaces”—before revealing the truth: Australians are amongst the fattest people in the world. Indeed, just more than 30% of Australian adults (those aged 15 years-old and older) were classified as obese in 2015 while a further 36% were classified as overweight.

    Wendy, a teacher and mother of three children, said “My children and other children know the symbols for things like McDonald’s and Coca Cola and Cadburys before they are two years old…The truth is junk food is cheap and easy. With fastfood restaurants you don’t even have to get out of the car, let alone buy food and cook it. It has just become such a part of our culture”.

    Many believe Wendy is right to point to consumers’ food choices and the culture of fast food as the primary reasons behind Australians’ expanding waistlines. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald describing the results of a recent survey by CSIRO and quoted Manny Noakes, CSIRO research director for nutrition and health, who said Australians were having “larger portions of junk food, more often…This type of food is no longer just an indulgence, it’s become mainstream and Australians are eating it each and every day”.

    Even as the international trend has seen consumers in most developed countries looking for healthier dining options, in Australia healthy fast food has yet to catch on in a big way. Indeed, in our most recent Out and About Survey – Meals Outside the Home (Evening Meal) conducted in 2012, it was found that 34% of the population eat out at least once a week with 21.7% eating out 2-3 times per week. Perhaps not surprisingly, according to the survey, it is younger consumers aged 15 to 29 years-old that are driving the continued strong demand, with 38.8% dining out 2-3 times per week.

    That old fast food stand-by McDonald’s remains the most popular brand amongst consumers. Next in line in terms of popularity are other established fast food brands, none particularly renowned for the health benefits of their fare: KFC, Subway, Hungry Jack’s and Domino’s Pizza.

    Although Australian consumers will no doubt enjoy a wider range of healthier dining out options in coming years—their appetite for sushi is keen—the love affair with traditional fast food is not expected to wane significantly in coming years despite public health concerns about obesity and its related issues. In fact, Australian consumers’ penchant for fast food is considered so entrenched that major fast food brands use the country and its diners to try out newly developed menus and food concepts that they hope will find success worldwide. Whether consumers will lean towards more healthy options in the future remains to be seen.

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