Study shows decline in average food spend

The food budgets of Australian residential aged care facilities are dwindling while money spent on nutritional supplements is increasing, according to new analysis.

The food budgets of Australian residential aged care facilities are dwindling while money spent on nutritional supplements is increasing, according to new analysis.

The paper published last week in Nutrition & Dietetics is based on surveys from 817 residential facilities representing about a third of operational places nationally and reports on care costs related to catering.

The research investigated the average food spend and trends of aged care facilities from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2016 via survey data collected by aged care accountancy StewartBrown.

It found that the average spend per resident per day on catering costs – including food, cooking ingredients, supplements, meal replacements and items such as crockery, cutlery and paper goods – increased from $7.52 to $8.00 from the first year to the next.

However, the average daily spend on food fell by 5 per cent from $6.39 to $6.08 per resident per day over the period, according to the 56 per cent of facilities that provided a breakdown of catering costs.

At these facilities there was also a 128-per-cent increase (50 cents) in spending on oral nutrition supplements and food replacements per resident per day over the period, along with an 11-cent (28 per cent) increase in costs related to other consumables, such as crockery, cutlery and paper products.

Cherie Hugo

The trend showing a decrease in spending on raw food and an increase in spending on supplements is a concern, said lead investigator Cherie Hugo, Bond University PhD candidate and aged care dietitian.

“We cannot cut the food budget anymore because it is a false economy,” Ms Hugo told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“You end up spending more on supplements, which don’t improve quality of life for your residents. And the cost of that small cut ends up being very expensive in terms of the flow-on effects such as wounds, falls and hospital readmission,” she said.

Ms Hugo, who is investigating aged care nutrition for her PhD, said she was concerned supplements were being used rather than addressing the underlying cause of someone’s malnutrition or weight loss, which could be related to the food options or their oral health.

Ms Hugo said the paper offered a baseline to monitor trends over the coming years.

Sean Rooney

In response to the findings, Leading Age Services Australia CEO Sean Rooney said aged care providers were required by the accreditation standards to demonstrate that catering services were provided in a way that ensured meal preferences, nutritional needs and special requirements of residents were met.

He said weight gain and loss were measured and responded to routinely and supplements were used to complement the nutritional intake of an elderly person in residential aged care when required.

“In the context of mounting fiscal pressures in the delivery of aged care services, we are seeing many providers combining their resources or small providers newly acquired by larger aged care groups having increased buying power that would potentially lower a provider’s spend on food,” Mr Rooney told AAA.

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1 thought on “Study shows decline in average food spend

  1. Thanks for sharing our research!

    To highlight the main point – 30c less per resident per day on food but 50c more per resident per day on supplements.

    While Sean’s comment regarding larger organisations obtaining potential food savings through increased buying power is correct, it does not explain this general overall decreasing trend.

    Further to this, we are spending more on oral nutrition supplements which implies we are not meeting adequate nutritional needs of the resident population with current food spend.
    Malnutrition rates in Australian Aged Care Homes are still high (more than 1 in 2 residents are malnourished) – so clearly, we haven’t yet solved the problem.

    Based on past research, there is a connection between decreasing food budgets and decreasing nutritional quality of diets. Sure, with great education programs we can ensure food intakes are maximised without spending the world. That’s what we work on and strive for with our monthly Lantern Collaboration meetings. One outcome of this work can be seen out our The Lantern Project Australia facebook page ( ) with a video series on the “Little Things” – innovations found in aged care homes that are cost neutral but have demonstrated great positive impact for residents.

    Keep in mind that meals are more than just nutrition too – they provide an opportunity to communicate, to trigger memories, to savour flavours, to engage in life and contribute to quality of life. Supplements can’t replace the rich role of food and dining experiences in the lives of our residents but figures suggest this may be happening.

    This paper provides a baseline to check in at future times and compare trends. Thanks Australian Ageing Agenda for sharing the research. There’s a number of papers about to be submitted for publication that extends on this topic to demonstrate the economic value of nutrition in aged care. I look forward to sharing them with you to further improve the mealtime experience and nutrition outcomes for residents in the aged care setting.

    Warm regards, Cherie

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