The pandemic pie peak has passed but we’re far from the demise of an Australian classic

One of Australia’s favorite meals is the meat pie. It was said to be endangered in the last week, with headlines stating that the “iconic” food was “dying out” as well as reports of falling sales. However, reports of its demise could be exaggerated.

Although sales of meat pies have dropped to their lowest since the year 2019, it could be the result of the country rethinking its eating habits with pie after the Lockdowns in COVID-19 sent the pie sales frozen in hyperdrive.

When Australians went into lockdown in March 2020, the meat pie sales rose by 40% over the same period in the year before. They dropped further in the final quarter of the year, as locks were lifted in a variety of cities, only to increase again after the new round of Delta lockdowns hits in 2021.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics tracks the sales of meat pies as a separate category within the national accounts.

The most recent supermarket scanner data released this month shows that the consumption of meat pies is back to the pre-pandemic norm; the $105 million Australians consumed on pies in March 2023 barely beats the $100 million that was spent in 2019.

“It’s too early to call for the demise of the meat pie,” according to Dr Nalini Prasad of the University of New South Wales School of Economics. “Meat pie consumption did increase during the pandemic but is back to where it was before the pandemic.”

The ABS information above is sourced from bakeries and stores. However, it doesn’t include outlets such as takeaway restaurants, which is why it doesn’t have the entirety of Australians who are eating the nation’s favorite snack.

Garlo’s Pies, for example, is a Sydney-based business that is a national service divided into the pies that are sold in supermarkets, petrol, and convenience stores, air travel, and its “route trade” – pubs, schools, clubs, cafes, and other independent operators who serve hot pies.

General Manager Jackson Garlick said during the lockdowns, “the only way people were able to get their pie fix was going into supermarkets, so we saw an incredible uplift in Coles and Woolworths in that time, which basically kept our business alive.”

The company experienced a year-on-year increase in the pandemic years 2019-2021 due to a 20% increase in the retail industry despite a 100 percent reduction in other sectors, such as the airline industry and the route trade.

“Covid observed a significant rise in the number of pies. We attribute that to the fact that people are stuck in their homes, being isolated home, and pies being an easy and inexpensive food item,” Garlick said.

A trend is growing for pre-cooked meals.

A study conducted by UNSW research professor at the business school Timothy Neal into panic-buying during the initial stages of the outbreak discovered that Australians were more anxious than other nations. “Meat pies would probably be one of the first things people would hoard or panic-buy,” as a frozen meat-based item, Neal said.

But, even after the initial panic buying, Australians continued to purchase pie as part of an overall trend to consume more prepared and frozen meals as a substitute for paying for restaurants, cafes, and takeaway shops, Prasad said.

Consumption of freeze-dried and ready-to-eat meals has increased after the pandemic, Prasad said, albeit at a slower rate of growth.

Revenue growth for the food industry in 2020-21 was 3%, which is twice the current rate of 1.5 percent, which has slowed as people have returned to eating at restaurants, according to Matthew Reeves, a senior industry analyst at IBISWorld.

Reeves stated that the 3% figure may not be as impressive due to the fact that the more firms that were launched in 2020, competition reduced prices. But, “at the company level, there was some real clear winners.”

The revenue of Lite n’ Easy rose 22% between 2020 and 21, and COVID-19 is “a real Kickstarter” for My Muscle Chef. Its revenue increased by 200% in the years 2019-20 and then 93 percent in 2020-21, Reeves declared.

Despite lockdowns coming to an end in the last few days, my Muscle Chef has maintained double-digit growth in the previous two years. At the same time, Coles has increased its menu of ready-to-eat meals by more than 30 percent.

Reeves believes that the companies in the industry of prepared meals who have managed to hang the momentum of the pandemic provide consumers with convenience, as well as healthier alternatives to traditional cooked meals, like frozen pizzas.

He believes that the spike in sales of meat pie can be seen as a temporary trend towards comfort food during the lockdown. However, people continue to choose healthy meals that are prepared after the lockdown.

Anand Surujpal, the general director of marketing and innovation for Patties Foods, which owns Four’N Twenty, said the firm had experienced record-breaking pie sales despite the fact that the lockdowns have been lifted.

“Even with the growth over Covid, Patties sales have never been stronger, with Four’N Twenty year-on-year growth at a whopping 20% in retail and Patties group sales up 40% across convenience,” Surujpal added.

The chief executive of Patties Foods, Paul Hitchcock, told 3AW that people were buying pies “more than ever” because they were a great value given the current economic conditions.

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