Kiwis Eating the Easy Option

The days of the local fish and chippie could be numbered as more Kiwis turn towards big name burger brands and ethnic flavours.

Sales data obtained by the Sunday Star-Times show every man, women and child - on average - is consuming around 3kg of fat through fast food a year: the weight of a newborn baby.

Each week, the average Kiwi eats the equivalent of two Big Macs with fries, industry sales figures show.

A family of four spends an average $2000 a year on fast food - enough for a large plasma TV or holiday in Sydney.

You could also wipe a month's worth of mortgage repayments for an average $360,000 home loan.

The figures paint a picture of our increasing reliance on convenience food, Auckland University population health associate professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu said.

"I think it's typical of what's happening overseas, people are working more outside the home." Studies in the United States and Britain show households are increasing the portion of income they spend on fast food.

New Zealand is following suit.

"It's clearly a concern," Ni Mhurchu said. "Research shows fast foods and ready to eat foods tend to be higher in sodium and more energy dense than those foods we prepare at home."

The university's National Institute for Health Innovation found New Zealand's fast foods are saltier than their European counterparts. New Zealanders' average salt intake was found to be 9g a day, compared with the recommended 5g.

New Zealand is home to about 3000 fast food outlets, or more than 4000 counting convenience stores.

But it's big chain brands which are winning us over, with independents like corner fish and chip shops and family owned convenience stores losing out.

The gap is predicted to widen, Euromonitor International's October 2012 report shows.

Burger franchises reported a whopping 22 per cent average increase in sales over five years.

Our penchant has long been for burgers, pizzas, chicken and pies but our appetites are being increasingly tantalised by Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern flavours.

Sales for independent vendor sales increased by 20 per cent within five years for Asian fast foods, and 36 per cent for Latin American.

Middle Eastern fast food sales rose overall by 15 per cent in that timeframe.

Immigration and well-travelled New Zealanders are driving the trend.

Hare Krishna Food for Life owner Deben Raut does good business at his Karangahape Rd, Auckland, location.

Student deals like $6 combo meals bring a steady stream of customers but it's the sense of community which keeps people coming in, he said.

"The Chinese community supports Chinese restaurants and the Indian community supports Indian restaurants.

"People also want to try different things."

A move to more exotic food has come at the expense of more traditional fast food, and hardest hit are the small independents that used to define suburban shopping centres.

Independently owned pizza outlets have suffered a 34 per cent downturn in sales over the past five years while independent fish and chip shops have shrunk 10 per cent and independent burger sales have fallen by 5 per cent.

Against the rising tide of ethnic food and the growth of burger chains such as Burger Fuel, Wendys, Carl's Jr and the ubiquitous McDonald's, the independents chippies and pizza outlets are forecast to lose even further revenue in the next five years according to estimates by Euromonitor.

Oceanz Seafood in Albany owner Ali Lokhandwala said sales have been lacklustre in the two years he's been involved.

A battered fillet of snapper at Oceanz costs $5.60, about the price of a basic takeaway pizza.

"It's hard for businesses like us to compete with the giant fast food industry," Lokhandwala said.

Customers are increasingly drawn towards big name retailers by online promotions and deals, he said.

And fish prices continue to rise because of decreased stocks and large overseas demand.

Lokhandwala said he paid 10 per cent more for terakihi and gurnard this year compared with last year, saying Australia's appetite for gurnard and flounder have added to inflated prices.

- Sunday Star Times


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