In shell is in style in China

Our recent research study examining the potential for Australian macadamias in China revealed a host of exciting opportunities for our industry, with huge scope to demonstrate new uses and consumption occasions and to introduce messaging around origin, quality, versatility, taste, health and nutrition.

The who and how of Chinese macadamia consumption

The research also looked at who is currently consuming macadamias, revealing that the ‘typical’ Chinese macadamia consumer is likely to be female with a higher than average income, well-educated and a heavier user of nuts overall. In the past six months, she has probably consumed five or six different kinds of nuts.

This profile is preliminary, however as our product continues to penetrate this market, there will be scope to develop a more detailed profile of our Chinese macadamia consumer, as we did recently for our Australian and German consumers.

Both the research and recent export figures show in no uncertain terms how the Chinese prefer to consume nuts – and it’s different to every other market worldwide. While the rest of the world buys shelled kernel, in China, there is a unique and strong preference for uncracked nuts.

As our 2014 Market Report Wrap Up explains, this preference has driven the dramatic rise in demand for in-shell Australian macadamias in recent years, with export volumes increasing significantly since 2012.

The appeal of in-shell product

Cracking the nut at the time of consumption is a cultural norm in China, and there are many perceived benefits associated with this practice.

Cracking is seen as an enjoyable and relaxing ritual when consuming nuts, a tactile and satisfying activity. However it goes deeper, with many believing in-shell product to be safer and more hygienic, with the shell providing a barrier against anything that might taint the kernel during growing, processing, transportation or packaging.

Nuts in shell are also perceived as being more natural, with fewer additives due to the inability of seasoning to penetrate the shell and adhere to the nut. This also preserves the original flavour.

So popular is the in-shell tradition that a special metal tool called a cracking key was created, and this is widely used among Chinese consumers. A small slit is made in the shell of the nut into which the cracking key is inserted. A simple twist and the shell breaks open revealing the precious kernel within. Take a look at a cracking key in action here.

Broadening the market

The drawback of this strong in-shell preference is that it limits usage occasions. As a task that requires both hands, cracking is not a good option for on-the-go consumption, while in social situations, too many shells are seen as messy and impolite.

The kernel market in China is currently small, but is showing strong signs of development, with increasing innovation occurring in terms of product and packaging formats. This paves the way to introduce the social applications and convenience of kernel, underpinned by the quality and safety standards that only Australian origin can deliver. 

China’s affluence and appetite for nuts is stronger than ever and the recently signed Australia-China free trade agreement has the potential to help our industry further strengthen its foothold in this market. With so many favourable factors in play the future for Australian macadamias – in all formats – is looking solid.

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