Nicole Miranda from Spinach examines the DIY (do it yourself) and DIFM (do it for me) food scene in Australia amid the seemingly never-ending lockdown.
- Aussies love a bit of DIY but DIY requires time and energy, hence the demand for meal kits during the lockdown.
- Meal kits and food delivery cater to COVID-weary consumers’ growing desire for convenience.
- German supermarket ALDI is hedging its bets by opening its first Corner Store concept offering ready-made meals.
Why it matters
Grocery brands are jostling to cater to both the DIY and DIFM consumer, with the new battleground involving retail media and the power of creative, but there is bound to be a recalibration as dining options open up when life eventually returns to normal.
- Over 5.5 million Australians aged 14+ (26.5%) used meal delivery services in 2020, up from 3.9 million (19.0%) in 2019.
- Brands including Dinnerly, HelloFresh and Marley Spoon are all vying for a slice of household grocery budgets.
- Despite the plethora of brands in the local market, HelloFresh’s CEO says there is still room for growth.
Australians like to do things their own way and COVID-19 has been no exception. When the pandemic first hit in 2020, much of the country went into lockdown and for a moment, it looked like we had the virus licked. During that first novel lockdown, Aussies found a host of ways to stay entertained with cooking right up there.
The Shopper Media consumer sentiment survey found 46% of Australians were creating more meals from scratch with 32% of shoppers declaring a “newfound obsession with cooking”. We baked, we roasted and sourdough starter catapulted to new heights of social media fame. The period was, understandably, a boon for grocery brands with the Australian Bureau of Statistics noting that supermarket and grocery sales rose 22.4% in the first month of the pandemic alone.
Fast forward to August 2021 and Victoria has emerged from its fifth lockdown, only to be recalled into its sixth just days later, while Greater Sydney is in the throes of a seemingly never-ending lockdown as case numbers continue to increase and spread into non-metro areas.
Residents of the country’s two largest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, are tired, depressed and gagging to get out of the house and back into restaurants, bars and pubs.
So who’s going to be cooking after COVID? Are Aussies going to be as gung-ho about doing it for themselves or will they be turning to others to do it for them?
A brand that’s clearly hedging its bets is German supermarket upstart ALDI. In July, the business opened its first Corner Store concept in North Sydney. On its website, ALDI describes the store as, “like a regular ALDI, only a bit smaller” offering ready-made meals to go, sushi and barista coffee. It’s “still different” with prices “still low” but it speaks to a growing desire for convenience for COVID-weary consumers.
This move by ALDI is also a nod to the need to shop local, exacerbated by the pandemic and broken supply chains. While more of a business district than a residential one, the residents of North Sydney will benefit from the convenience of the Corner Store concept.
More broadly, we’re all feeling the pressure to support smaller local businesses versus the ease and convenience of national or global businesses. But not all cafes and food outlets offer delivery and we’re watching strip malls and a high percentage of the CBD close down around us, which is limiting our choice.
Aussies and DIY
The fact of the matter is, us Aussies love a bit of DIY. But DIY requires time and energy. During lockdown, we had plenty of time on our hands but the energy, not so much. So it’s little wonder meal kits experienced a surge in uptake. And Aussies are certainly spoiled for choice in that department with brands including Dinnerly, HelloFresh and Marley Spoon, among others, all vying for a slice of household grocery budgets.
Of COVID, HelloFresh Australia and New Zealand CEO Tom Rutledge told The Australian: “It brought more people to our service earlier than they otherwise would have. We saw increased order sizes as more people were taking more meals at home and we have seen more engagement in our customer base because of the role we played in their lives at that time.”
For the uninitiated, HelloFresh meal kits provide all the ingredients to make a meal from scratch. Meal prep can take upwards of 15 minutes. While choosing HelloFresh delivers time savings in the grocery selection and meal planning department, the brand is also looking to get into the ready-made meal space. In July, HelloFresh made a A$125.3 million takeover bid for ASX-listed Youfoodz, a service that delivers around 400,000 meals a week.
While HelloFresh is staying mum on how many customers it has in Australia, it has more than five million globally and despite the plethora of brands in the local market, Rutledge told The Australian there’s room for growth.
Also making a play for the in-home dining experience are home delivery brands Menulog, Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Doordash, who take all the work out of getting dinner on the table.
According to Statista, as of 2019, the Australian home delivery market was worth A$1.6 billion with restaurant-to-consumer sales claiming A$1 billion of the total revenue while app-based deliveries trailed behind. Prior to the pandemic, delivery services were struggling to achieve growth but lockdowns have changed their fortunes with UK-owned Deliveroo raising its forecast for sales after strong growth during the first six months of 2021.
More broadly, research from Roy Morgan shows more than 5.5 million Australians aged 14+ (26.5%) used meal delivery services in 2020, up from 3.9 million (19.0%) in 2019.
The ease and convenience of summoning dinner at the click of a button is hard to beat and when Aussies eventually emerge from lockdown, they’re not going to forget that in a hurry.
Somewhere in the middle of meal kits and home delivery is a new local service that launched during the pandemic. Providoor is a marketplace for Australia’s best restaurants to sell finish-at-home meals. Celebrated restaurants including Apollo, Monopole and Spice Temple are on board and in 2020, Providoor delivered 512,000 meals generating a reported A$40 million in revenue for restaurants.
Founder Shane Delia says it’s not strictly a “lockdown business” but rather a longer-term solution to help restaurants diversify their income streams. The model works by customers ordering meals a day or more prior. Upon delivery, simple instructions to heat and plate the food are provided.
The challenge for grocery brands
Given all of this, are grocery brands about to feel the post- COVID pinch and what can they do to ensure they maintain a greater share of the pie, figuratively speaking?
From the supermarket to the kitchen bench, convenience is a key pillar for messaging.
But there’s another issue at play here and that is the impact of convenience eating on people’s health. When I think about convenience, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, Uber Eats and other “fast” food options all come to mind. And for many of us, this sort of convenience is having a long-term effect on our health that goes beyond those COVID kilos.
There is an opportunity to define “healthy” convenience options.
Ready-made meals are one way to communicate with the time-poor consumer. And there’s no reason why these can’t be good for us.
The new battleground for grocery brands
Another way for grocery brands to speak to shoppers is retail media. In Australia, retail media is an emerging advertising medium connected to trading terms and negotiations with key supermarket brands. It’s an option for grocery brands with limited funds who can’t afford more mainstream media channels.
With US data suggesting 75% of online shoppers start their shopping with the items they purchased last time, it’s becoming more difficult than ever for new brands to get into consideration sets.
Given this, online platforms of major supermarkets are fast becoming the new battleground for grocery brands and another way to combat the lure of DIFM (do it for me) is to use these platforms to provide inspiration for home cooks. After months of trying new and different recipes, the most energetic of home cooks are exhausting their repertoire and the smart grocery brands can help by offering meal suggestions alongside the ingredients required to make them happen.
If online is the battleground, data is most definitely the best weapon to have at your disposal. With brands such as Menulog taking this approach seriously, grocery must do the same. In one instance, Menulog has been trialling first party data matching via connected TV combining its own first party data with publisher audience data which is then applied contextually. The brand’s CMO Simon Cheng notes that people who are watching cooking shows are ripe for the picking, for example. Reportedly, the effort has delivered a 37% conversion rate improvement and a sales boost.
The power of creative
While the focus on data is key to winning this battle, we can’t forget about creative.
In this regard, it’s hard to beat the stellar work produced by Uber Eats and Menulog. The ongoing Uber Eats “Tonight I’ll Be Eating” campaign features a host of Australian and international celebrities, and sits alongside a highly successful partnership with the Australian Open tennis tournament which has seen well-known tennis players appear as if they are in the midst of a match when they are interrupted by an Uber Eats delivery. Similarly, the “Did somebody say Menulog” campaign featuring Snoop Dogg has helped brand awareness in Australia increase by eight percentage points.
Supermarket brands Coles, Woolies and ALDI are far from laggards in this department, with the three companies serving up plenty of their own above-the-line efforts.
The Coles “What’s for dinner” campaign, which ran during the onset of the pandemic in partnership with the Seven Network, was a masterstroke helping budget-conscious Australians to find cheap, easy recipes to feed their families.
More broadly, ALDI’s multi-award-winning brand platform “Good, Different” has given the brand a leg up to win market share from the supermarket duopoly and shows ALDI isn’t afraid to take on the competition no matter where it comes from.
When life eventually returns to normal, there’s bound to be a recalibration as dining options open up. It’s clear the big players are ensuring they cater to both the DIY and DIFM consumer with the products and services they provide. Grocery brands would do well to follow suit to ensure COVID isn’t simply a blip of a sales boost and I urge all suppliers in this battle to remember convenience doesn’t have to mean unhealthy.