New research: Macadamias' natural fit with ice cream leaves consumers wanting more

12 Mar 2019

Strawberry macadamia ice creamThe Australian macadamia industry has spent the 2018/19 summer focused firmly on the ice cream category, following the release of a new body of consumer insights research.

Commissioned as part of our industry’s Innovation Initiative, the study revealed a host of innovation opportunities for macadamias in ice cream in both Asian and western markets. It builds on our library of recent research, following the release of findings into the bakery and snacking categories in 2018, with our 2017 study of global food and beverage trends providing a macro backdrop to the category-specific research. 

The ice cream study unearthed a close alignment between macadamias and ice cream, identifying that the way consumers experience these foods and the indulgent and luxury associations they both possess are almost mirror images of each other. This unique alignment, unlike that of any other ingredient pairing, is one that consumers and influencers are eager to see more of, and it holds abundant opportunities for macadamias in this category, particularly in the premium ice cream segment. The study identified six distinct innovation hotspots for macadamias in ice cream, all of which evolved from the different expressions of premium that emerged.   

If you would like further information on any of these insights or innovation hotspots, please feel free to contact your supplier, or Australian Macadamias Market Development Manager Lynne Ziehlke. A host of unique packaged food concepts with macadamias from the world-first Macadamia Innovation Challenge are also available upon request, several of which are for the ice cream category. 

The unique signature of ice cream

The research revealed that ice cream holds a special place in consumers’ hearts. Carrying strong emotional meaning, it offers a moment of carefree indulgence, and represents the simplicity and joy of childhood and an immersive and gratifying eating experience. 

Asian consumers enjoying ice creamAcross markets, ice cream is deeply cherished as an indulgence and there is a desire to keep it a ‘special’ moment in which innovation plays a critical part.

It’s a product that pulls a number of emotional levers for consumers. 

REWARD: Ice cream as a gift to ourselves – used to recognise accomplishment and treat ourselves. 

ENRICH: Ice cream helps us to mark moments where we indulge in life and are connected to others.  

UNWIND: Ice cream as a way to help us relax, feel comfortable and contented. 

REFRESH: Ice cream as a way to cool down and re-energise. 

As a luxurious and indulgent ingredient, macadamias are well suited to this emotional landscape, especially to reward, enrich and unwind. 

Macadamias and ice cream: a unique yet under-leveraged alignment 

One of the most fascinating insights to emerge from this research was the natural fit that exists between macadamias and ice cream, and what lies behind this. 

Macadamias actually mimic and reflect the characteristics and eat journey of ice cream, in a way that no other ingredient can. This occurs not only through associations of luxury and indulgence that mirror those of ice cream, but also the unique and sensorial eating experience, and the sense of uplift from the ordinary or mundane that both can deliver. 

This alignment means consumers are open to seeing macadamias integrated in ice cream in myriad ways, whether as a flavour, a base ingredient in milk or paste format, or as a textural component in the form of pieces, sprinkles or part of a cone. 

One of the most significant findings was that while macadamias appear sporadically in the ice cream category, for consumers and influencers in Asia and the west, it’s a marriage they want to see more of. There is a genuine desire to see manufacturers leveraging the macadamia-ice cream alignment more often and incorporating macadamias in ice cream in a variety of ways. 

Macadamia topped ice cream coneThe macadamia halo effect

In the context of the ice cream category, macadamias offer up a host of benefits. These have the ability to halo the whole ice cream product, and the research concluded that they are currently under-leveraged in the category. 

CONSCIOUS INDULGENCE: The presence of macadamias signals better-for-you indulgence. With the wellness trend stronger than ever, this is increasingly how consumers seek to treat themselves. 

PREMIUM AND LUXURY: Macadamias’ strong luxury associations imbue products with desirability and premium value. 

SPECIAL: Macadamias are not seen as often as other nuts in ice cream and are therefore special and unique. 

REWARDING TASTE: Macadamias’ mouthfeel, taste and texture collectively create a unique product experience that combines effortlessly with other flavours.  

INTEGRITY AND AUTHENTICITY: Macadamias are seen as less commercialised, not mass produced and refined. In Asia, Australia as a producer is regarded as “clean”.  

The premium opportunity: enhancing the worth of ice cream with macadamias 

The ice cream category is growing globally, with the growth in value being driven by the premium segment. Consumers are willing to pay more for ice cream products that help them to indulge, whether that’s through premium ingredient additions or an indulgent ‘healthier option’. 

In the US, 38% of consumers are willing to pay more for premium ice cream options with 25% keen to see more indulgent options*, while in China, 76% of consumers would pay more for an indulgent offering in ice cream.** 

Echoing previous research findings, macadamias have distinctive equity and align well in delivering to premium, with their unique flavour and texture and relative rarity. Considered by consumers to be the ‘luxury nut’, they can bring luxury and premium to life in ice cream and elevate any product they’re included in.  

The many faces of premium

The research findings revealed the concept of ‘premium’ is not one-dimensional. Rather it’s a rich, multi-layered landscape that can manifest in a variety of ways. Consumers in both Asia and the west identified different expressions of premium, from indulgent luxury, artisan tradition and simplicity at its best, to ingenious creations and healthy indulgence

Macadamias offer a suite of benefits including their luxury, authenticity, integrity, versatility and health halo. When macadamias are added to ice cream, these benefits enhance the worth of ice cream, across every expression of premium. Once again, the research unearthed a strong sense among both consumers and influencers that macadamias and their benefits are currently under-utilised in the ice cream category. 

Macadamias reconcile decadent and conscious indulgence 

One of macadamias’ most powerful assets is their ability to reconcile two opposing motivations, and this is particularly relevant to ice cream.  

Consumers wrestle with wanting a rich, decadent, and highly indulgent experience when purchasing ice cream, but at the same time, seek a healthier, better-for-you option.  

The presence of macadamias in an ice cream product reconciles these two seemingly irreconcilable motivations. As the ‘luxury nut’ they deliver a taste and texture that cues absolute indulgence, while their strong and positive health halo delivers to a more conscious version of indulgence.  

It’s a trait that is unique to macadamias, with no other ingredient able to deliver on both indulgence and better-for-you to the same extent. 

Innovation hotspots for macadamias in ice cream 

Six innovation hotspots were uncovered in the study, all of which evolved from the different expressions of premium that emerged.   

Here’s a snapshot of the most fertile ground for innovation with macadamias in the ice cream category.  

#1: ULTIMATE DECADENCE  

Consumers are seeking a more elevated experience of premium and luxury as a way to enrich their lives or experience more, particularly in China. In a time-pressured society, we have a greater need to reward ourselves and want to do this in more extreme and decadent ways. The pressures of social media also come into play here with consumers seeking to showcase their enriched lives to others. 

Ultimate decadence is about languishing in luxury, as a way to spoil and pamper oneself. It is the reward for accomplishment, a gift to self and allows us to experience the high life.  

What macadamias bring to this space: 

• Luxury: they effortlessly imbue a more elevated product and bring a sense of specialness and refinement

• Premium-ness and exclusivity: they’re regarded as the most naturally premium and exclusive nut that offers an intensely indulgent experience which justifies a premium price

• Decadence: their flavour and textural properties lend decadence, through a rich, buttery and melting taste experience

Macadamia lamington ice cream sandwiches

#2: ARTISANAL (AUSTRALIAN) GOURMET

In today’s foodie culture, artisanal experiences have gone mainstream. Consumers are seeking more gourmet experiences, along with the unexplored and the special. The notions of locality, tradition, skill and hand-made deliver a premium experience with a big flavour pay off, that helps to reinforce ice cream as something special. 

Artisanal gourmet speaks to gourmet experiences that demonstrate the artistry and craftsmanship of ice cream and dessert making. It promises something unique and specially crafted to indulge in as a way to enrich or reward. 

  What macadamias bring to this space: 

• Authenticity: a nut with high integrity – less processed, purer, and from an origin known for its quality produce: Australia  

Flavour: a unique and versatile flavour that can be used as both hero and sidekick, while being subtle enough to let the ice cream itself shine

Premium-ness: increasingly celebrated as an ingredient in food, yet not common currently. They offer a refined and intensely indulgent experience and justify a price premium.

Macadamia milk ice cream

#3: PURE AND SIMPLE

While weird and wonderful flavour innovation delivers excitement, consumers also want to hold on to the simplicity of good quality ice cream, born from the best quality ingredients and made with care.  

In ice cream the classics are important. They allow us to experience ice cream as the simple joy it is with flavours that are uncomplicated and quality ingredients done well. However to retain interest, it must be injected with a level of something new. 

What macadamias bring to this space: 

Interest: a more unusual and unknown nut, giving a new twist and interest to a classic, while retaining a mild, unobtrusive flavour profile 

Refinement: the most naturally premium and exclusive nut that offers a rich and intensely indulgent experience and justifies a price premium

Authenticity: a high-quality nut, with high integrity, less processed and more pure

Child with ice cream#4: INGENIOUS CREATIONS

Ice cream is a platform for continuous flavour innovation, where consumers crave and expect new and novel flavours as a way to reinforce its treat value and ability to surprise and delight. Beyond the wild and wacky, consumers are increasingly seeking more foodie-like combinations to indulge the senses. It keeps ice cream exciting and special, and helps to retain its ‘magic’.

This hotspot captures the unbridled creativity of ice cream artistry in terms of flavour, texture and format innovation, tempting consumers to be adventurous in exploring all of what ice cream has to offer. 

What macadamias bring to this space: 

Interest: a more unusual and unknown nut, giving a new exotic twist, and textural intrigue

Versatility: versatile flavour that combines well with other indulgent flavours e.g. white chocolate, so can be hero and side-kick

Luxury: a high-quality, more exclusive nut that embodies value

Macadamia red velvet ice cream#5: BETTER-FOR-YOU ICE CREAM

Wellness is an emerging expression of indulgence, and this trend is driving the desire for healthier ways of enjoying treats. Increasingly consumers seek permission to enjoy ‘naughty foods’ by gravitating towards more natural, lighter alternatives that embody a better-for-you promise. This means integrating more natural ingredients, rather than taking bad things out.  

Better-for-you ice cream delivers to the desire for more conscious indulgence, capturing the wish for lighter and ‘healthier’ ways of enjoying ice cream. Often delivered through more sorbet-like experiences, it lends itself to the slow churned process, higher quality of ingredients and the absence of anything artificial. 

What macadamias bring to this space: 

Health halo: known for having a variety of health benefits 

Authenticity: a high-quality nut, with high integrity. Australia as their country of origin imbues the nut with quality and care, due to the broader associations with Australian produce

Macadamia Tropo Pop Tops#6: DELIGHTFULLY DAIRY FREE

Many consumers are embracing a more conscious approach to eating, with reduced dairy intake adopted to address concerns such as bloating. Veganism is becoming mainstream too, and major manufacturers are picking up on these trends, increasingly delivering premium experiences in this space and driving value in the category. 

Currently almond and coconut milk are dominating this space, and there is an opportunity for macadamias to have more impact. Texturally, macadamias are more aligned to ice-cream than any other nut based dairy alternatives; they are rich, mild flavour carriers and embody indulgence. This could be captured through macadamia milk and paste. 

What macadamias can bring to this space:  

Health halo: they bring an aura of health, are known to have nutritious qualities and are often thought of as a superfood  

Indulgence & luxury: macadamias feel most aligned to ice cream as an alternative base, as the creaminess in particular captures more indulgence value than other nut based non-dairy alternatives

Authenticity: a high-quality nut, with high integrity; less processed, purer and from an origin known for its quality produce: Australia

Macadamia Oat ConeLooking for innovative ice cream product concepts? We can help.

The world-first Macadamia Innovation Challenge generated a host of unique and exciting concepts for new packaged food products containing macadamias. Many of these were for the ice cream category, and they are now available for adoption by food manufacturers and product developers globally. To find out more, simply contact your Australian macadamia supplier or Market Development Manager Lynne Ziehlke


The insights referred to in this story are from the research project, Ice Cream Category and Macadamias: Western and Asian Consumer Insights conducted by independent research agency GALKAL, 2018.  

*Innova Market Insights ‘A Deep Dive Into Ice Cream Servings and Toppings’, February 2018

** Mintel – Innovation in Ice cream in 2018.

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