• Patrick Dawkins

Apimondia – the Kiwis’ Experience

It was a small contingent of New Zealanders who attended Apimondia International Apiculture Conference recently, among a throng of approximately 12,000 attendees in Istanbul, Turkey. While the Kiwis didn’t go completely unnoticed – with a medal claimed at the honey awards and plenty of questions being posed to them about mānuka honey – an opportunity to market New Zealand honey appears to have been missed as other nations took centre stage.

Around a dozen New Zealanders, including honey producers and sellers, a live bee exporter and a representative from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) were among the Kiwis attending the bi-annual global apiculture event, August 24-28.

Various disruptions hindered planning of the conference, with it initially set for Ufa, Russia, in 2021 but postponed until 2022 due to Covid. Then in March this year it was cancelled, as Apimondia condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, before the substitute venue of Istanbul Congress Centre (which hosted the conference in 2017) was announced at short notice.

Shorter than your average Viking, Kaimai Range Honey owner Jody Mitchell gets behind the Scandinavian bid to host Apimondia International Apiculture Conference 2025 during proceedings at the 2022 event in Istanbul in August.

The seven-story building with a 120,000 square metre footprint in the centre of a city of 15 million people is a world away from the honey production hives of the Bay of Plenty, but one honey from that corner of New Zealand made its mark.

Kaimai Range Honey’s “Special Bush Honey”, a mix of tawari and rewarewa, scooped a bronze medal at the World Beekeeping Awards announced at the conference. The win follows Kaimai Range Honey owners Ralph and Jody Mitchells’ “horrendously frustrating” experience at the previous awards, in Montreal 2019, where a range of their honeys were controversially red carded (detailed in the October 2019 issue of Apiarist’s Advocate).

“When Russia got cancelled we thought, back to beekeeping, we’re busy,” Jody Mitchell says, following her and husband Ralph’s return to the Bay of Plenty.

In the medals at the World Bee Awards were Kaimai Range Honey, with owner Jody Mitchell displaying the bronze medal received for their "Special Bush Honey".

“Then all of a sudden it was back on and we had a week to get some honey organised, cream it and send it out. Logistically it was ridiculous. So, we are chuffed we came away from the awards with something.”

Like in 2019, many honeys entered into the competition from around the world did not pass the testing requirements, including one of the Mitchells’ two entries.

Their bronze medal winner was the only honey to medal in their category.

“A few of the judges are really staunch and their attitude is, unless it is absolutely fantastic, you are not getting the gold. They will say ‘we are not awarding gold and silver because we feel this could be slightly better’,” Michell says.

Considering it was a rushed last-minute entry, she is very happy with the medal, especially with it standing out above any others in the category. However, the ongoing issue of unadulterated New Zealand honey failing at the testing stage of the awards still concerns Mitchell.

“We are not totally sure what the issue is. The judges loved the honey, but some of the tests they are using are not suitable for all honeys across the board. A lot of them have been developed for European honeys and you have got different plants and different varieties of honey presented that don’t suit the testing. A lot of our native honeys are only just passing some of the tests. They are pure, unadulterated, but there are little things popping up that they don’t understand.

“They amount of stuff they are testing for is mind blowing. Getting past the testing and through to the judges is a mammoth task in itself.”

Limited NZ Honey Presence

There was plenty more going on at the international conference than just the Beekeeping Awards though, with a large trade display and a wide range of experts addressing the various auditoriums on matters of beekeeping and apiculture.

SJA Honey owner Jason Marshall was the only New Zealand presence amongst the trade displays, advertising his live bee exports and honey. Once attendees registered that they were New Zealand beekeepers, the questions about manuka honey started flowing.

SJA Honey’s booth was the only Kiwi presence among the displays at Apimondia International Apiculture Conference in Istanbul, where owner Jason Marshall and beekeeper Melissa Griffiths set up to meet the approximately 12,000 delegates.

“We had quite a lot of people tasting our Good & Gooey honey brand’s samples and then we had another mānuka honey sample hidden away to bring out and let people try. We made them feel like it wasn’t for everyone – just the special ones,” Marshall says.

Like the Mitchells, Marshall had attended the Montreal Apimondia conference in 2019 and was surprised then that there was no great New Zealand honey presence amongst the displays. That was the case again in Turkey, outside of the SJA Honey booth. While Marshall says there were some very elaborate displays, which he estimates would have cost upwards of $100,000 to implement, the SJA booth was more modest, but served as a meeting point for the small contingent of Kiwis in attendance.

Among them was Johann Ander, managing director of honey exporter Yobees Honey who says “people wanted to talk mānuka honey”, and that “even Australia had a stand there, promoting what they call mānuka honey, but we don’t”.

Mānuka Orchard owner Logan Bowyer was also among the Kiwi contingent, spreading the word about the Bay of Plenty honey storage facility’s new honey sales platform, accessible to buyers all over the World.

“It was disappointing that New Zealand does not have a bigger presence at shows like that, because you just don’t know who is attending and walking around,” Bowyer says.

“When we’ve got not enough sales for the honey we produce, we need to have a presence at anywhere that is going to sell honey for us.”

Being amongst the throng of apiculture industry insiders was motivating for him as Mānuka Orchard seeks to take client’s honey to new market places around the globe.

“Once you get there you realise the people who are there are the dedicated ones. They are all there for a reason, and hard-working people. They all seem to have the same driver: let’s try to sell some honey to other parts of the world that don’t have any yet. There is all these people in the same place who speak the same language – honey,” Bowyer says.

The Beekeeping World Together

There was a wide range of scientific presentations and apitherapy had a strong presence at the event, with many Turks inclined to use apiculture products for medical purposes. That provided an opportunity to learn plenty Mitchell says, while the social aspects of the gathering were a highlight as the world exits a pandemic.

“We really enjoyed the mix of people. There were a lot of people there that, had it been hosted in America, they wouldn’t have even been allowed in the country with the way visas work. It was a diverse group and very interesting because that brings a wide range of ideas from all around the world,” Mitchell says.

Despite the bronze medal success, Kaimai Range Honey has unfinished business. So, they will again be looking to enter their honey in the Beekeeping Awards and attended the next Apimondia, in Chile 2023.

“I want the gold! I know two people who have won the award for World’s Best Honey and that is not just a gold medal, but the pick of all the gold medal winners. One is from Turkey, one from America,” Mitchell says, adding, “So, we will go for gold in Chile and then go again from there!”


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