New Zealand may be a dairy-led nation – in 2017, the sector contributed $7.8 billion (3.5 percent) to New Zealand's total GDP – but not everyone can soak up the delights of milk-related goods. According to Allergy New Zealand, lactose intolerance is one of the most common food intolerances affecting people in Aotearoa.
WaHiki Creamery co-founder Sergio Figueroa says he’s on a dairy-free diet, while fellow co-founder Haman Shahpari is also moving is also away from dairy in his food choices. But seeing as though both are ice cream lovers, they saw a gap in the market for a premium coconut ice cream that catered to any dietary requirement without sacrificing taste or quality – so WaHiki Creamery was born, with the name meaning ‘time out’ in te reo Māori.
“Right now, dietary requirements are perceived as a limitation on people’s ability to enjoy delicious or decadent foods,” Figueroa says. “We’re here to reverse this perception and our ethos is to offer ice cream for anyone everywhere.”
He says the sector of the food market targeting people who want to move away from dairy is growing and profitable, as consumers are more aware about their sources of food and the effects it has on our bodies and environment.
“Social media has been the breeding ground for these trends to spill over borders and boundaries, and transcend culture, religion and race. People want good, nutritious foods that are ethically produced. Traditional food-sourcing practices are on their way out,” Figueroa says.
“Maybe not overnight, but already, traditional industries are copping huge losses. The tide is changing, and you either ride the wave or get drowned out, and we chose from the get go, to ride the wave and be innovative. We looked at the emerging food trends, what was making a come-back, what was gaining momentum, what consumers wanted, and we started on those foundations.”
WaiHiki Creamery launched 18 months ago offering dairy and gluten free vegan ice cream that’s made out of coconuts, halal approved and the first New Zealand ice cream to become coeliac certified. Shahpari says sales have grown 250 percent since first launched, with 170 stores stocking their products, including supermarkets.
The pair have also tweaked the usual dairy alternative ice cream making process with the help of food technologists.
Figueroa says they’ve reduced the ‘churning’ process, which is the process of adding air to create a fluffy texture in ice cream. Some dairy alternatives add up more than 100 percent air, he says, which is why it can melt quickly when removed from frozen conditions.
Because of this, Wahiki takes longer to melt, as the ice cream is denser.
And while they have all the basic flavours covered, this hasn’t stopped them from being adventurous with their flavours either. The company has engineered what it says is the world’s first commercial ‘coconut turmeric latte’ flavor.
“This ice cream is incredible because it has turmeric, black pepper (to activate turmeric’s main ingredient curcumin) ginger, cinnamon and banana puree. Basically, at least three out of the five main ingredients are super foods. It blows people’s minds to know we can even use turmeric, ginger, black pepper and cinnamon in ice cream,” Shahpari says.
“Our whole mission has been not to reduce from decadence and flavour, so our turmeric blows people’s minds because it’s dense, creamy and a flavor bomb in your mouth.”
The flavour took 15 trials to perfect, while its vegan matcha ice cream took 30 trials of different blends of matcha powders.
“As matcha is an acquired taste and is sometimes described as somewhat bitter, we worked closely with food technologists who devised banana puree into its formulation to balance out the overriding flavours. The matcha design offers a coconut taste first, followed by the unique matcha flavour and concludes the gustatory experience with a soft a banana aftertaste,” Shahpari says.
Getting to the point WaHiki is at now has been challenging, Figueroa says. When the brand was unknown and starting out, nobody wanted to know them and it was hard to make traction with stockists.
“Early on, we learned that approaching stockists who have the same flavours of different brands in a saturated ice cream market, interest garnered is all-time low, which is why were led towards innovation early on. We had to innovate to obtain traction in this category,” he says.
Now, when we approach potential stockists with a world first flavour (turmeric latte) and New Zealand’s only vegan matcha flavour, we get far more interest. World firsts and New Zealand-firsts/onlys create hype for us, stockists, customers and media alike as it captures a segment which has not previously been penetrated.”
He says one of the highlights has been meeting existing and new customers at supermarket tastings, food shows and further afield.
“We’re changing the way people think about coconut ice cream, dairy free ice cream and gluten free ice cream. Dairy free is no longer watery, icey, sugary experiences, but rich, thick, and a decadent feel without the coconut dominating. We love seeing people’s response to our ice creams, it tells us we’re doing it right.”
Currently, WaHiki is in the process of expanding and picking up more stockists. Shahpari says the plan is to take over the world – or at least, the internet’s favourite search engine.
“We have big ambitions and no plans to slow down. Our goal is for Google to ask whether you meant ‘WaHiki’, when you search for the island ‘Waiheke’. Currently, it’s the other way around,” he says.
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