Emma Clifford
Emma is Associate Director, Food & Drink. She provides insight on the UK F&D market with a special focus on healthy eating and is regularly featured in the national media.

Mochi is a traditional Japanese dessert, made of squidgy balls of rice dough filled with either bean paste or ice cream. While not yet on the radar of most UK consumers, these exotic treats tap to a number of key foodie trends – authenticity, artisanship and unusual flavours – while also being permissible thanks to their diminutive size. Moreover, the profile of mochi ice cream is now starting to rise in the UK, thanks to visibility of mochi in the foodservice arena and the entrance of Little Moons mochi ice cream into the mainstream retail market.

Little Moons was unleashed into the UK market in summer 2015. Whole Foods Market was the first to stock the six-strong range, but the company hit the mainstream when it won listings with Ocado and became available to buy nationwide through the online grocery retailer in October 2016. The flavours of the line range from those very familiar to UK consumers (vanilla and raspberry) to more exotic options which are likely to appeal to the more experimental consumer (toasted sesame, coconut, Matcha green tea and mango).
Little Moons opened the first self-service mochi ice cream bar at the High Street Kensington branch of Whole Foods Market. Creating in-store theatre, shoppers can choose and skewer their own ice cream balls onto a stick to eat straight away, or to put them into a bigger pack to take home. The range of flavours has been expanded to 10, and includes authentically Japanese yuzu as well as very on-trend salted caramel options.

Mochi can tap into foodies’ love of newness

The UK has a growing foodie culture which celebrates newness, excitement and emerging cuisines, however, consumers’ interest in desserts from around the world is not yet catered for by the nation’s supermarkets. While the unusual texture and look of these sticky, brightly coloured balls of ice cream could create a barrier among Britons, nowadays one in three consumers describe themselves as a foodie. This means that the strong element of newness of mochi ice cream perfectly aligns with many adventurous consumers’ desires to expand their culinary horizons by exploring new flavours and textures.

Japanese cuisine still has plenty of growth potential. While only a quarter of adults have ever eaten Japanese food, a further 40% of consumers would be interested in trying this type of cuisine in the future, according to Mintel’s Attitudes towards World Cuisines UK 2017. There is no reason for this interest to be limited to savoury cuisine, with Britons’ love affair with foreign food stretching to include sweet foods.

The authenticity of the Japanese delicacy is also a real selling point for the Little Moon brand, given foodies’ search for authentic products when it comes to world cuisines. Brother-and-sister team Howard and Vivien Wong founded the company and the recipe was passed down from their parents’ bakery. With the all the products hand-rolled using the traditional method, Little Moons can also boast a strong artisan status.

Coated bite-sized ice cream attracts interest

Even more encouragingly, over two fifths of ice cream and dessert eaters expressed an interest in trying coated bite-sized ice cream, yet innovation in this area remains sparse. The concept is particularly popular among women, as almost half of them are interested in this type of product. Smaller portions – particularly if they are literally bite-sized – can make taste king, and even the most indulgent product can be positioned as a guilt-free ‘moment of pleasure’.

Emma Clifford is Senior Food Analyst at Mintel and is responsible for researching and writing food reports. Before joining Mintel in 2011, Emma worked as a marketing information analyst at Marketforce and she gained retail experience from her time working as a fashion distributor for Debenhams at the company’s head office.