The serious effect of the Coronavirus and the Bushfires on the Australian foodservice industry

Monday, 17 February, 2020

Since December, two different disasters have hit Australia - the Coronavirus and the Australian bushfires. Both completely different, yet overlapping in destruction as the knock on effect has affected the foodservice and hospitality sector. Here's why and what people are doing to help.

The Coronavirus and the sharp downturn on Australian businesses

The outbreak of coronavirus, now known as COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China in late December has caused anxiety and fear of safety around the world. With limitations on tourism and travel, the knock-on effect of the virus is also affecting several Australian businesses – specifically the hospitality chain.

With international travel restrictions prohibiting travel between several regions and Australia, the tourism sector has taken a huge blow. According to Tourism Australia[1] , of the 9.3 million tourists that visited Australia last year, 1.4 million were from China, spending an average of $9,235 per trip and $12.3 billion in total. The travel ban on foreign nationals who have recently travelled to or through mainland China is preventing both tourists and students from entering Australia[2], cutting off two vital revenue streams for local businesses.

 

chinatown, coronavirus, chinese-australians, corona, outbreak
Dixon Street in Sydney's Chinatown [Triple J Hack]

The ripple effect in Foodservice … and how the Australian public and businesses are responding

Across Australia, there has been a dramatic downturn in trade even in the most popular restaurants within the usual hustle and bustle of Chinatowns. Many beloved eateries are feeling this huge decline with reported drops of up to 50 per cent of revenue, as anxiety around the coronavirus is concerning regular diners. The huge dent to the foodservice industry has not just slowed business, but has forced some establishments to shut down, such as 31 year old long-running Shark Fin House, a Chinatown favourite.[3]

Dan Hong one of Australia’s most influential chefs, as well as the executive chef across several establishments including Mr Wong’s, Lotus Dining, Ms G’s and Queen Chow in Sydney, has spoken out via his own Instagram platform on the matter. He urges diners to get out there and support their local Chinese and Asian eateries, pleading the public to, “Dine in and support the Chinese restaurants, and support the fishers whose livelihoods rely on an export trade with no reopen date set yet.”[4]

He urges Australian diners not to avoid China town and to keep eating out at their local Chinese and Asian restaurants, mentioning it’s a great time to be eating lobster, with the export ban on Australian seafood to China, it’s almost half price!

 

Left: Dan Hong, Executive Chef [Broadsheet], Right: Executive Chef Jerry Mai [Mebourne Food and Wine]

The same concerns are mirrored by Jerry Mai, Executive Chef and owner of Vietnamese restaurant Annam, street-food chain Pho Nom and Glen Waverley’s Bia Hoi beer hall. She stated in an Instagram post ‘thing’s are dire and we need your help,” acknowledging that the revenue at her CBD venues has halved and her Glen Waverley venue is down by 80 per cent.[5]

The luxury produce that is usually exported to China, such as premium lobster and other wild-caught aquatic products, are currently selling at an extremely low price due to the sharp drop in export demand. This is an unfortunate consequence and hefty blow for Australia’s live seafood export industry.

 

It’s a great opportunity for local businesses to include lobster dishes on their specials board, which would be both making the most of the low pricing and supporting the seafood industry. Customers will be delighted to indulge in a premium menu item at an affordable price.

 

lobster burger, coronavirus, cheap lobster, seafood industry, export industry, lobster specials

Betty's Burgers Lobster Special [Concrete Playground]

 

THE AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES

Over the Summer, coastal and regional towns which are usually jam packed with tourists and families on vacation were nearing empty. From holiday parks to restaurants and smaller operators the domino impact of the fires was felt by business owners and their employees, as well as the locals. With the lack of visitors, small businesses struggle to keep on their staff and smaller operators have had to lay off employees.

 

Consumer initiatives post Bushfires - how the Australian public is responding
The images of Australian bushfires that beamed across the media elicited international sympathy and donations but deterred holidaymakers.[6]  The message to the Australian public from food and tourism businesses is clear –  it's time to come back and spend time in these towns whether it’s for a weekend away or a small holiday, as these areas will need their ongoing support. Empty Esky, is a newly created campaign which encourages people to grab an empty esky and head out to affected towns and ‘fill up with everything local. Not just wine, food and produce, but coffee and fuel, clothing, accessories. Eat at the restaurants. Drink at the pubs!’. Another consumer initiative is encouraging people to head to their local farmers’ market – look for products from areas that have taken a hit and stock up on fresh produce. See this excellent guide available with suggestions of 5 road trips you can take through bushfire communities here [7]

Max Mason-Hubers, Farmers' markets, bushfires, Australian bushfires, #buyfromthebush
Farmers' markets help fire-affected communities. [Good Food]

What are some businesses doing?

 

Although, Australia has had a devastating three months in the wake of the bushfires, it’s always equally uplifting to see the way communities and establishments band together to show support. Social media campaigns, Buy from the Bush and Spend with Them showcase goods from rural communities affected by the bushfires and drought, encouraging people to purchase products from businesses within these areas. If you have been impacted, consider reaching out to these organisations for support.

Melbourne Food and Wine Festival created a #restaurantsforrelief campaign, driving tourism and encouraging people to support the relief efforts with special offers such as private dinners with Australian star chefs and special events at a host of venues. 

Some businesses have had to get creative, such as The Chicken Shop in Bright, Victoria which couldn't open for weeks on end, decided to bottle and sell their Alpine barbecue sauce online, breaking their 100-bottle target with 500 sales overnight.

Pay it forward campaigns are also springing up [8] such as Bega Valley Eggs which were directly hit by bushfires, claiming a number of their hens and engulfing their pastures. They have started a two-part donation campaign, where you pay for a carton of eggs that they will give, free of charge, to struggling cafes and shops, while your money is used to rebuild their egg grading centre.

What support is available?

There are many state Recovery Grants schemes set up to support small businesses that have been impacted. There is a wide range of support available including: Financial support, Business advice, Small Business Recovery Toolkits, Mental Health support, etc. If you have been impacted, research the local initiatives available in your area that you can apply for.
 

What have Nestlé committed to?

All of us at Nestlé have been touched by the bushfire crisis, and our thoughts go out to the people, animals and communities affected. To support relief efforts, we have committed to:

  • Donating our products via Foodbank. We’ve donated food, pet food, infant cereal, lollies and throat lozenges for those in need.
  • We’re currently aiming to reach the $1M target for the NSW Rural Fire Service and Victorian Country Fire Association, including dollar-matching staff donations and fundraising. 
  • We’re providing paid leave to Nestlé employees serving as emergency volunteers.
  • To ensure our staff and their affected friends and family can access professional support, we’re extending access to the Nestlé Employee Assistance Program.
  • We're working with affected small business customers to provide a range of support measures in the months ahead.
  • We have also doubled volunteer leave for employees to support recovery efforts in affected towns or with wildlife, and encourage our teams to consider supporting affected towns by locating offsite meetings and events thoughtfully. 

We are extremely grateful for the continued efforts of our emergency services and the care shown by so many for our communities.

Of course, if you’d like to help with the emergency response, you can donate money directly to organisations doing frontline work to help local communities, wildlife and displaced people, including the Salvation Army, WIRES, the Australian Red Cross and state-based brigades like the NSW Rural Fire Service, Victoria's Country Fire Authority and South Australia's Country Fire Service. The Red Cross is also calling for people to donate blood.