Q&A: Hemp-based ice creme the answer to an allergen conundrum

Today, we talk to Susie White, the entrepreneur behind Australia’s first plant-based ice creme brand SuperSeed. Having worked in the food and beverage industry for many years, Susie conceived the idea of a hemp-based ice creme after feeling dissatisfied after realising that the existing plant-based ice cremes in the market all contained allergens. She introduced SuperSeed to the public in the midst of the lockdowns going on due to the global pandemic. Despite this, and being relatively new in the market, the product has been making its way into the public consciousness not only because of its novel premise but also due to the positive feedback it has received.

ISB: What inspired you to come up with something as unique as hemp-based ice creme?

SW: I entered the world of allergen-free and plant-based foods recently when diagnosed as coeliac. I was surprised to learn that many plant-based ice cremes still contain allergens like gluten or nuts, and use ingredients with a damaging environmental impact, like coconut and almond milk. When researching more sustainable and allergen-friendly ingredients, I discovered hemp seeds could be made into a thick, creamy milk that is naturally delicious and ideal for ice cream. I decided to make a new plant-based ice creme for people with multiple food intolerances and/or vegan dietary preferences.

ISB: How was the experience in transforming that idea into a physical product?

SW: It has taken more time and resources than I ever anticipated. I entered a capital-intensive frozen food category, dominated by established companies while breaking established recipe rules by making a vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free and nut-free ice creme. The last year has been a roller coaster ride of triumphs and disasters. I couldn’t use a shared kitchen since commercial ice cream making equipment is large, fixed, not readily available and not allergen-free. Instead, I sourced raw ingredients, trialled recipes, purchased commercial ice cream equipment, leased a warehouse and built a dedicated allergen-free kitchen in the Yarra Ranges of Victoria.

ISB: Aside from the ingredients, what makes SuperSeed ice creme stand out as a plant-based food product?

SW: Being a sustainable business for good is a big priority for SuperSeed. Our ice creme tubs are made from bamboo, which is one of the fastest-growing grasses in the world, requiring less land and regenerating from cut stems, which makes it a ‘super’ renewable and sustainable choice. Our tubs are lined with a plant-based PLA resin made from sugarcane, rather than traditional petroleum-based PE plastic, making them biodegradable and industrially compostable. SuperSeed also supports the regeneration of Australian rainforest with every purchase made. We’ve saved 834 metres of Australian rainforest to date.

ISB: Being the first of its kind in the Australian market, how do you manage the challenge of marketing SuperSeed ice creme to the public?

SW: Many vegan, plant-based and ‘flexitarian’ consumers are already aware of the nutritional and sustainable benefits of hemp seeds. Our priority is to showcase the delicious taste and creamy texture of hemp seeds in SuperSeed ice creme. That’s why we focus on ice creme tastings at weekend markets and in-store with our retail stockists. The beauty of this is that you’re never short of people willing to try your product. We’ve also starting to gain positive product reviews by vegan, allergy-free and plant-based advocates, and enter food product awards to showcase the delicious taste of SuperSeed ice creme.

ISB: Having spent over 20 years in a corporate environment, what was the most important realisation for you when you shifted to being an entrepreneur?

SW: I really enjoy the autonomy of starting up and running your own business. It’s hard to step away from the steady income, job security, professional respect and regular work hours of a corporate job. However, this loss has been more than offset by the satisfaction of creating a business that supports my own values, ambitions and sense of purpose. Entrepreneurs must be prepared to make uncomfortable trade-offs. For example, I exchanged my corporate luxury SUV for a beaten-up, 15-year-old ice cream delivery van. Every time I drive it, I know I’m happily one step closer to achieving my goals.

ISB: What are your plans for SuperSeeds development in the next couple of years?

SW: In the last year, SuperSeed has transitioned from a hobby to a side hustle, to a start-up business. Over the next two years, I’d like SuperSeed to become the next generation of sustainable, plant-based ice creme that delights consumers. Our focus is to become a fast-growing and profitable business, by expanding distribution into health food, whole food and independent retailers, and sharing our naturally delicious, plant-based goodness across Australia.