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"Australian-made": Local food under focus

COVID-19 and the desire for sustainability are the driving forces of the positive development of the domestic, Australian food market.

On paper, Australia is one of the most food secure countries in the world: It could satisfy the food requirements of its population three times over (Source: Australian Food & Grocery Council).

The global COVID-19 pandemic has however underlined weaknesses in the supply chain and caused an increase in the local food insecurity (Source: KMPG). Due to the closing of borders urgently needed seasonal workers were not allowed to enter the country. Furthermore, the international air traffic was reduced so that the import of agricultural goods declined.

The reaction of the Australian Government: The reinforcement of the regional farmers, the intercontinental food tourism and hospitality segment with the aid of targeted initiatives. What's more, many Australians even use their backyards to grow their own food and thus contribute towards their own health care themselves. Parallel to this, it became clear what potential Australian food could have for the export through environmental compatibility and sustainability.

Preference for local: Current market figures

  • When dining out, 84% of Australians prefer to choose a restaurant that they know uses local ingredients (Source. McCain).
  • 84% of the Australians place greater value on local products. 83% state that they would pay more for local brands (Source: Google Year in Search For Brands).
  • More than 90% of the food and vegetable, meat, milk and egg products sold in Australian supermarkets originate from domestic production (Source: Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment Australia).

Australian peculiarities

Hard lockdown regulations decisively contributed towards the Australians getting through the COVID-19 pandemic pretty well. It has induced a strong community feeling within the society. The wish to support the domestic industry leads to an increased sensitivity for the origin of foodstuffs (Source: McCain).

The quality and economic advantages for the industry inspire Australian consumers, retailers and chefs to have a preference for products grown in the region. According to a market survey by Mintel during the bush fires in 2019/2020, 48% of the Australians searched for locally grown foodstuffs. After COVID-19 interrupted the supply changes, this figure rose up to 52%.

Because the international borders are closed, domestic tourism and the state subsidies for providers in the "food travel" sector (such as wine tours for example) are an opportunity for the entire industry to strengthen its position on the Australian market. Several organisations are relying on this by launching explanatory campaigns on food. One example: "Dairy matters" by Dairy Australia. Among others, the themes include the positive impact on the environment, diet and the livelihood of the farmers. Furthermore, Dairy Australia has entered a partnership with Airbnb to offer road trips and trips to "dairy destinations", which also include visits to farms.

Farm-to-table initiatives such as Grow Source Eat help establish neighbour relationships through hyperlocal fruit, vegetable and mushroom subscriptions. Grow Source Eat was founded by the communal food initiative Melbourne Food Hub and sources herbs, vegetables and fruit from a network of urban farms and local producers. In order to combat food insecurity, the initiative operates a voluntary programme, offers discounted boxes on request and donates non-used products.

"The pandemic quickly brought to light the fact that the way that we spend our money can have an influence on Australia's self-provision," explained Ben Lazzaro, CEO of Australian Made Campaign.

The trend: Bush food

With the more and more food being grown throughout Australia, attention is being drawn to domestic ingredients and edible plants. The market for bush food, well-known for its environmental compatibility and superfood characteristics has a volume of €12.7 mil. However, according to estimations, only 1-2% of this amount is earned by aborigines and Torres Strait islanders (Source: National Indigenous Bush Food Symposium).

The "exploitation" of the traditional knowledge of the First Nations on growing and processing food that is frequently observed leads to the sociopolitical expectation for responsible action. In this way, for example the Australian Superfood Co that specialises in ingredients, has founded the Native Harvest Initiative. It supports local communities in increasing their harvest yields among other things in order to serve the global demand for Australian food more readily.

"There is great interest among the Australians to understand the health advantages of the native bush food and tell stories about where our food comes from," stated Dr. Yasmina Sultanbawa, research assistant at Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation.

Noble restaurants and TV cooking shows such as MasterChef also pay tribute to the domestic variety of tastes and contribute towards increasing the domestic demand. The much-praised Orana restaurant in Adelaide is a pioneer here. Under the direction of the head chef, Jock Zonfrillo, the menu focuses on domestic products. The ingredients originate from Aboriginal farmers, collectors and fishers. The Orana Foundation founded by Zonfrillo maintains a database for indigenous food in cooperation with the Aborigines in order to preserve traditional knowledge for coming generations.

Because the development of the agricultural sector for indigenous food is still in its infancy, a broader discussion on examples of best practice is being held. Projects like the ARC Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods work together with natives, companies and consulting firms and secure that the future marketing of domestic food protects the rights of the First Nations People - particularly when it comes down to transferring 60,000-year-old knowledge into commercial products.

The urban future is edible

Mental disorders, obesity and food insecurity are growing problems in Australia. Survey results show that growing food can counteract these problems. A quote from one survey: "There is a future, if one gardens."

The positive aspects of (agricultural) green areas is prompting city administrations to found initiatives for building developers, such as Melbourne's Urban Forest Fund and Habitat Grants for instance. Others encourage owners to release disused areas for communal usage. In this way, the market and food forest Pocket City Farms in uptown Sydney used to be a bowling green.

The increased interest of the Australians in domestic food is also arousing their interest in pre-colonial farming methods. In Sydney, Indigrow, a market garden for Aboriginal bush food preserves the native Permaculture and promotes its distribution. It focuses on culturally important - and above all in times of climate change - endangered species and in addition to work perspectives offers the youths of the Aborigines the possibility to become aware of their own tradition.

Two ambitious projects demonstrate what shape the future of urban food production in Australia could take on. The aim of Biofilta's Melbourne Skyfarm project is to transform a roofed car park into an extensive farm, an orchard, a bee house and a learning centre. Every year more than five tonnes of foodstuffs are to be produced, a large share of which will be donated to a charitable cause. The Future Food System of the eco-innovator, Joost Bakker, has drawn up a blueprint for the future house construction. Here the house becomes a zero waste ecosystem that imitates nature because it grows, feeds and fertilises. In a six-month public trial phase, two people will live in the self-sustainable house, which cultivates over 250 different types of plants, mushrooms and animals.

The core points at a glance

1. The Australians are paying added attention to the origin of their foodstuffs and the impact of their production and consumption. Instead of imported goods they prefer the domestic products of local producers. This is contributing towards the stabilisation and growth of Australia's agricultural sector.

2. The demand for products that are based on Australia's nutritious and resistant world of plants is on the rise. The basis for the evaluation of local companies and investors is more and more whether they collaborate responsibly with Australia's natives.

3. The awareness for the positive effects of urban green spaces is increasing. Companies and brands can address consumers with urban projects that connect growing food and food security with a communal experience, well-being and education.

Copyright of the article: The Future Laboratory, https://www.thefuturelaboratory.com/, author Noelle Faulkner