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Catching the attention and purchasing power of Generation Z is not for the faint hearted. Research shows Gen Z have a heightened sense of health, environmental awareness and expectations for the food to be “different”.

Gen Z, born between 1996 and 2015, have grown up in a time of flux, fluidity, mass disruption and constant innovation. For them, “different” is a multi-layered proposition, starting with food being a form of social currency.

Food has to look as good as it tastes, with extra points for technical, textural and flavour complexity. They want to mix and match in ways never seen before, as traditional mealtimes blur and pimped up snacking takes centre stage. They’re also fascinated with global food trends and embracing different perspectives on what a ‘traditional’ dish is.

But while they are seeking out the newest products, ingredients and places to eat, they are also looking for food that feels good.

It’s this expectation that has Gen Z seeking out brands and products they see as a positive choice, as they actively look for greater control and transparency on food and its origins.

In Western markets, a move away from meat and dairy is motivated by the ‘greater good’, and there’s a continued gravitation towards many forms of sustainability including plant-based, mindful meat eating, waste reduction and eco packaging.

In the USA, 65 per cent of Gen Z say they want a more ‘plant-forward’ diet, and 44 per cent think being vegan is cooler than smoking. This year, it was found 42 per cent of Australians said they were eating less meat, or none at all.

Gen Z is rejecting the view that ‘healthy’ food must be bland and boring and instead, showing willingness to pay a premium for healthy products that taste good. It is also more than just a physical focus. Gen Z are also conscious about maintaining good mental wellbeing.

These attitudes and behaviour are driving consumer interest in including more plant-based products in their diet.

In 2018 the global plant-based protein market was valued at $16.45 billion and is expected to more than double by 2025, reaching around $40 billion. In 2019, the plant-based industry was worth $180 million in Australian manufacturing and retail and is expected to be worth $25 billion by 2030.

It is this interest in plant-based products and ingredients which have caught the eye of the Australian macadamia industry. Macadamias are Australia’s fourth largest horticultural export. There are approximately 800 growers producing more than 45,000 tonnes per year, with 70 per cent of the crop exported to more than 40 countries.

In February, a consolidated and rebranded grower-owned macadamia company Marquis Macadamias was launched, becoming the world’s largest macadamia processor and marketer. It will grow, process and sell 48 per cent of Australia’s macadamia production and be responsible for 22 per cent of global kernel sales. It will also handle more than 16 per cent of nut in shell (NIS) world production.

The industry is also inherently sustainable, with recent research showing macadamia trees are more water efficient than previously known. An average Australian macadamia orchard removes more than 14 tonnes of carbon per hectare a year.

Lynne Ziehlke, general manager, marketing for the Australian macadamia industry, said the industry is embracing such sustainability opportunities as consumers increase their awareness and care for the environment.

Ziehlke said Australia’s macadamia growers ensure every part of the tree and nut is reused or recycled, with nothing going to landfill.

“Demand for transparency is at an all-time high and sustainable production is a non-negotiable for many. We’re excited to share the sustainability credentials macadamias can now deliver too. From water use efficiency, to carbon sequestration, minimisation of carbon outputs, recycling of by-products and world’s best biological control, the macadamia industry really is kicking goals in this space.” said Ziehlke. 

Plant-based milk company milkadamia CEO Jim Richards said: “We are currently seeing is a younger generation consumed by eco-concern. These people want ingredients and products that are part of the solution, not the problem.”

Richards said the key to tapping into the Gen Z market is to create products that match how consumers identify themselves.

“Today’s consumers are looking for wellness, but the lens through which wellness is viewed has changed. It used to just mean good nutrition, but now, especially to younger generations, it’s so much bigger than that. Consumers want to be vital, energetic and well. But they also recognise that they can’t be well if everything around them isn’t well.

“They’re not looking for innovation per se, but they’re excited by products that are relevant to their lives and pertinent to what matters to them. Innovation is often needed in order to deliver that,” he said.

Milkadamia is a range of 10 macadamia milks and creamers as well as a plant-based butter made from a macadamia oil blend.

The brand and its products are well positioned to deliver to the feel-good food demands of Gen Z. Richards said the brand talks as much about its eco and regenerative macadamia farming credentials as it does about taste and nutrition, because consumers expect companies to more than ever before.

“What we’re seeing now is that consumers are more excited about saying yes than no. Previous generations had a list of ingredients they didn’t want to see in food products, whereas now it’s more about what people do want to see. Up and coming consumers want to embrace food in a positive way, which is why so many of them are shifting to plant based eating.”

Richards said the company worked “long and hard” to perfect the taste of its products because consumers would no longer compromise on flavour for health. Its range uses raw, not roasted, macadamias which results in a creaminess similar to dairy milk.

Plant-based market maturity is varied around the world. In the US, plant-based milks are booming. While Asian markets are behind, Richards said China, South Korea and Japan had perfect conditions for entry.

“Asian consumers are behind in the plant-based journey, but they’re not behind in enjoying premium products, and macadamia products like ours have that. A lot of younger Chinese consumers are premium purchasers, so we believe a product like milkadamia will hold strong appeal for these consumers.”

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