Kale chips, kale smoothies and kale Caesar salads – few vegetables have seen such a meteoric rise in popularity as this humble leaf cabbage.
For most of us, the trend is somewhat baffling, considering the rather unpalatable nature of the bitter leafy green. What it does do though, is point to the efficacy of a good marketing strategy.
And if marketers can boost sales of this cruciferous vegetable, then why not macadamias too?
It seems the global macadamia industry has peaked: prices are on a downward trajectory for the first time in nearly a decade, input prices have soared and market disruption has seen demand for the golden nut decline sharply against an ever increasing supply, particularly in South Africa.
From now on, all macadamia-producing areas are expecting exponentially bigger crops as new trees come into production while farmers continue to increase the area under orchards.
The 2022 crop closed on around 294 000 tons, a 21% increase from last year despite the devastating floods in Australia and South Africa’s Limpopo region under-performing on its usual average.
In five years, the global crop is estimated at 503 000 tons. The South African share of the world supply is predicted to top 135 000 tons.
The annual crop increase, particularly this year, comes on the back of a market showing little appetite for the nuts.
Nico van Schalkwyk, the general manager at Golden Macadamias, said several dynamics were at play, including high inflation and consumer pressure, the growing size of the world crop, and an under-developed ingredient sector for macadamia nuts.
“There is still a lot of the 2021 crop floating around, diminishing demand for the 2022 crop. Supply disruptions have also resulted in a lot of product failing to arrive in time for peak consumption periods, particularly in the Chinese market. We also saw a post-Covid-19 change in demand from consumers spending money on superfoods to spending on travel instead,” Van Schalkwyk said.
The experts say dynamics in the Chinese market will increasingly impact the global nut market.
Pieter van der Westhuizen, director of Empirestate Trading, said the Chinese were also looking for a better-quality nut.
“Chinese consumers have increased their expectations as they have become more familiar with the nut and what they want. As the quality of the Chinese crop is not overly high, traders are only looking to import high quality nuts, and big sizes at that. South Africa therefore needs to position itself to meet this gap in the market,” he said.
On the impact on cashflow and farmer prices, Van der Westhuizen said since the Chinese had big domestic volumes coming into the market, buying of imported stock would happen much later in the season. This would eliminate big cash deposits made at the beginning of the season for imported nuts, resulting in a delay for farmer payouts and putting cashflow under pressure.
“The days of getting a big income bump in March and April are over. Farmers need to start planning for a future where payments will come in later, and in smaller increments,” he said.
These factors have all had a significant impact on prices, with the nut-in-shell prices dipping to an average of US$3,20/kg from the highs of around US$6,50/kg seen in 2017.
Staying in the game for years to come means a greater focus on profitability and identifying where gains can be made.
Juan Winer, managing director of Source BI, estimated the break-even point for farmers to be R56/kg on farm. Anything lower, he said, would put farmers out of business.
At the current prices, farmers are teetering close to bankruptcy, according to experts.
Another emerging trend in payments is greater discrepancies between style crack-outs. While this will encourage more product development as ingredient styles are priced lower, it does create another challenge for farmers. This is especially true for the domestic market as nearly half of South Africa’s orchards are planted to Beaumonts, which produce 70% halves and pieces.
Van der Westhuizen said farmers should begin to investigate varieties able to yield higher priced nuts.
“The 695 variety, for example, will give mostly crack-out pieces, while 816 will produce mostly wholes. The A4 and 814 is evenly spread between halves and wholes. The days are gone where farmers chased varieties based on their sound kernel recovery – style spread is more important now. It takes time and investment to develop the ingredient market and we need long-term stability in prices and supply to get going. It is an exciting space, but there will be a three-year speed bump before prices start stabilising,” he said.
Myles Osbourne, the commercial director at Macadamias South Africa, says tariff reduction in import markets was now critical to stabilising income. “The Chinese tariff is 12%, and India is sitting at 30%. This adds a lot of price pressure, especially when our competitor, Australia, has been successful in negotiating reduced tariffs in some instances and eliminated tariffs altogether in others.”
Hashtags and selfies
Looking at the whole nut basket, macadamias are just 2% of the total volume. The industry is therefore confident while there is not a lot of room for growth in the market, the nut’s rarity will keep demand buoyant.
Coordinating the global effort to market macadamias, the World Macadamia Organisation (WMO) has developed a strategy to increase macadamia consumption.
Jillian Laing, CEO of the WMO, said naturally functional foods were experiencing market success as a direct result of social media campaigns. Those topping the list of winning hashtags included avocado, turmeric and kale.
“A long-term and creative strategy on social media took kale from obscurity to a must-have ingredient. Macadamias have many health benefits, but to get the most from marketing campaigns, we need to focus our message on a few key areas. There are only three ways to grow consumption: get more people to eat the product, get them to eat more per serving, and more often.”
Laing said the WMO strategy was geared towards increasing focused social media marketing strategies.
She said the campaigns would include messaging linked to macadamias as a mindful whole food. “The core target market is someone who cares about what they eat, and wants to reduce meat intake but is not a vegan. It’s a flexitarian who wants real dairy and some meat, looks after their body and their mind and wants sustainable foods.”
She said the WMO had identified China and India as two key countries where market growth had the most potential, considering the size of the populations and an existing culture of nut consumption.
India, for example, had a big demand for style 0 and 1 nuts.
“Although this is only suited to around 2% of India’s consumers, considering the size of the population it is feasible. But we need to be very strategic in how we market the nuts to this segment to maintain the element of luxury and health. Since many women in this consumer group see a dietician regularly, we will be targeting them to increase consumption,” Laing said.
Research carried out by the WMO found because of the higher price of macadamias, product developers should be careful about products in which to invest. “Peanut butter is cheap, so trying to compete in the nut butter market can be tricky. Bars and nut bites should be targeted, as should cheese alternatives and nut mixes.”
A challenge facing product developers is, however, that information on how macadamias perform in different formulations is not readily available, and they don’t have the time to figure it out. This means the WMO is in the process of developing cooking manuals to provide more detailed information on recipe formulations and the length of the macadamia nut shelf life.
Consumption of products such as kale and avocados has increased exponentially because of solid marketing campaigns. This bodes well for the macadamia industry. However, marketers have their work cut out for them, as the sustainability of hundreds of growers depends on sustainable prices.