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  • Writer's pictureTony Wright

A Mānuka Honey Mission

Recently Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) decision makers Tony Wright (CEO) and Campbell Naish (marketing manager) travelled to key mānuka honey markets around the globe. From New York, to London and then China’s bustling city of Nanjing, the mission was to educate those in the markets, but there was also a lot to be learnt. Now back on home soil, Wright details the lessons learned concerning the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead for our prized honey.

By Tony Wright

In April I visited several northern hemisphere markets to connect with consumers, trade and officials and promote the latest research on the unique nature of New Zealand mānuka honey, mānuka trees and the health benefits that can only be associated with New Zealand mānuka honey.

Along with delivering our message, being in market is always the best way to learn what is happening in markets in detail that cannot be accomplished from New Zealand. This particular trip, with brief stops in the UK, USA and China, did not disappoint and generated some valuable insights.

Tony Wright, UMFHA CEO, appeared across a range of media in the USA recently, in a bid to educate the American market on the benefits of buying genuine New Zealand mānuka honey.

New York, New York

Firstly, exploring the retail environment in Manhattan, rated the world’s most affluent city centre, made clear the minimal in-store retail penetration, the opportunity for mānuka, and the scale of the job to raise awareness and interest in the category. Mānuka honey is nearly anonymous in-store with very small stock holdings in natural health stores and boutique grocers, but nothing in mainstream supermarkets and pharmacies.

Consumption per person in the USA is well below other more established markets. So, there is plenty of room to grow and some brands are clearly investing in telling their story and building consumer awareness. But there is still an enormous opportunity, prompting the question: how might we assist brands to grow the category and recruit consumers faster? For example, developing collateral to strengthen our messaging and how we tell the story about mānuka honey health benefits, and support that with credible evidence. Or investment in generating consumer insights, enabling our storytelling to be optimised for each market and the needs of consumers. These are big investments, hard to pull off at the individual brand level, but something we can collectively invest in.

Front Footing the EU Green Deal

We met with the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise EU/UK/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) team at the New Zealand Consulate in London. NZTEs role in the international arena is to facilitate trade and help exporters navigate market requirements and make business connections. They raised their concerns about many New Zealand honey companies lacking awareness or concern about sustainability regulations that are already being implemented and will significantly impact markets in the region further over the next decade.

The EU Green Deal is a portfolio of initiatives designed to improve environmental outcomes throughout the supply chain, from farm to fork. One of its stated intents is to level the playing field so both domestic and imported goods are subject to the same environmental standards, regulations and penalties.

“Mānuka honey is nearly anonymous in store” says Tony Wright of the American market, as evidenced by this California supermarket with a wide range of honeys but just two mānuka options, which don’t stand out.

One example of note within the Green Deal is the tightening of the EU’s Extended Producer Responsibility regulations for packaging. Producers will be increasingly financially responsible for the collection, recycling, and recovery of their packaging waste. We should be looking at these programmes, which are not unique to the EU, and planning how we could excel in outperforming in our response relative to other countries, rather than lagging behind.

Another example is the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), which aims to ensure imported products do not have a higher carbon footprint than in-market alternatives. Although food has not been targeted yet, it’s not unreasonable to foresee this happening, and before it is regulated we are likely to see major retailers imposing carbon reporting requirements to meet their own needs. We need to pay attention to these trends. Unless we prepare we face regulatory barriers to market entry, increased costs of entry, retail and wholesale price increases, even loss of market partners. In response, we can start working on mapping our supply chain and understanding the material contributors to our carbon footprint. This informs a conversation about how to address this and meet market needs.

These changes also provide an opportunity for New Zealand to lead through rapid adaptation and innovation to production systems that would present opportunity to take market share against slow moving competing suppliers and alternative health categories.

Collaboration with market partners and their customers could build deeper partnerships and value if New Zealand companies are a key part of a smooth transition through regulatory change.

Collective Action

Finally, one of the benefits of attending and presenting at the China Bee Products Industry Conference in Nanjing is the conversations with influential experts attending from organisations around the world. While Mānuka honey is well known in global trade, we are far from front-of-mind with the experts determining the agenda for international rules and regulation setting across the world. Decisions made in the Northern Hemisphere affect how our product is perceived, but their rules and regulations are informed by input from their producers, not ours.

To advocate effectively for good regulation it is critical that we present a cohesive, credible, professional position. We need to be consistently present in the relevant forums (e.g. International Honey Commission, Apimondia and other technical conferences), and we need to have the scientific data to support our position. Both require a magnitude of investment best done at a collective level.

Then, all messaging underpinning the value and quality of New Zealand honey must be backed up by the output and behaviour of all involved in the industry. That means being clear on the standards we need to meet and ensuring that all product is fully compliant and delivering a positive consumer experience.

While the travels of Campbell and myself were as representatives of the UMFHA and thus an extension of our members, we found ourselves with a broader job to do – promoting and defending the mānuka honey category for the benefit of all New Zealanders. And while we may have shaped some prominent opinions for the better, there’s still plenty of work to do.


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