Exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the purchase and consumption of fruits and vegetables: A social media analytics approach

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Thaichon, Sara
Thaichon, Park
Zuo, Alec
Roberts, Robin E
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The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially disrupted our daily lives. Concerns about the widespread transmission of the virus have led to strict government measures for communities, such as lockdown and border closures, which significantly impact consumer behaviours and the agribusiness industry. For example, lockdown orders give rise to home cooking and the emergence of new food shopping channels such as online stores since consumers are unable to go out, and many restaurants and catering venues are closed. Similarly, restrictions on cross-border movements have constrained food supply chains resulting in shortages of food products, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, prompting concerns about food security. During this period, consumers have focused more on aspects relating to safety, hygiene and the health benefits relating to their food purchasing in order to protect themselves during the pandemic. Therefore, this study aims to explore the patterns of consumption and purchase of vegetables and fruits in the pre- and post-COVID-19 periods. 659,537 individual tweets from March 2019 to March 2021 were collected from Twitter, by users based in Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas. Sydney and Melbourne were chosen, as both are the largest capital cities in Australia, and both had experienced different levels of government interventions during the data collection period. Melbourne was identified as the most locked down city in the world. In contrast, Sydney was open for business and functioning for most of the data collection period (the longest lockdown in Sydney started in June 2021). By comparing the purchase and consumption patterns of vegetables and fruits in these cities, this study was able to analyse the impact of the restriction measures on consumer sentiments, attitudes, and behaviour towards fresh fruit and vegetable. Sentiment analysis was used to explore themes including buying channels (for example, online, brick-and-mortar, and hybrid), food safety (packaging, country of origin, chemical use and health benefits) and sustainability (food waste and environmental consciousness). Customer sentiment was mapped against changes in lockdown orders and the number of COVID-19 cases to determine the impact of government measures and the health crisis. Overall, this study sheds light on the new normal in agribusiness sector by revealing how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way consumers shop and consume fruit and vegetables. The findings offer significant implications for a number of sector stakeholders such as food retailers, supermarkets, farmers, and government to effectively adapt to emerging customer demands and expectations.

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AARES 2022: The 66th Annual Conference of the Australasian Agricultural & Resource Economics Society—Book of Abstracts
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Applied economics
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Roberts, RE; zuo, A; Thaichon, S; thaichon, P, Exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the purchase and consumption of fruits and vegetables: A social media analytics approach, 2022, pp. 51-51