Collective Constraint Needed to Reduce Risk
APIARIST’S OPINION: PHIL CASKEY
PHIL CASKEY has been a leader in taking manuka honey to the world since the 1990s. He founded the first dedicated manuka honey packing and marketing company with his wife Sharan in 1996, which later developed the first manuka honey wound dressings. They were founding members of what is now the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association. In 2012 he co-founded New Zealand Manuka Group, an export honey business which partners with Kiwi beekeepers and manuka landowners, which he directed until recently. Below Caskey offers his expert opinion on the concept of a large collective of Kiwi honey suppliers partnering with an offshore packer and the associated risks.
As part of my role with the NZ Manuka Group Sharan and I spent three years living in the UK, in an attempt to build markets for our honey. I will share some lessons from that experience, and previous marketing ventures, here.
There was a lot of customer confusion and mistrust regarding manuka honey when we first arrived in the UK. We worked closely with major retailers and customers to educate and provide reassurance around the credibility and quality of manuka honey, even establishing a dedicated UK-based manuka honey packing facility in 2017 to help showcase our commitment to quality.
However, if a large supply of New Zealand honey is introduced to offshore markets, there is a risk that the sort of confusion amongst consumers that we spent those UK years working to overcome could be fuelled further.
The market for high value, high quality manuka honey is limited to the amount of credible and tangible marketing support that can be provided to consumers to help grow the market. Flooding more lower-grade manuka honey packed offshore with little or no quality control onto the same shelves as higher priced and higher rated honey will only reduce the value of the higher priced product because of the level of consumer confusion created between the numerous rating systems and labelling requirements.
For instance, if you have a label on multifloral honey seemingly saying to the consumer a MGO40 is better than a UMF20, because of the higher number, then how do you justify four times the price for the latter?
In general, supplying a large dump of low-grade manuka honey into any one market will only displace the high value product, which would be very risky.
Markets are about consistency of price and supply volume year-on-year and if we were to suddenly offer another, say, 3000 tonnes of what is essentially a multifloral honey it would need to be at a value that it will move off the shelf when competing with all the other multifloral honeys. Careful branding would be needed not to undermine all the work the industry has done to get manuka recognised as the highest value honey in the world. If we have a glut and drop it all at once as a pseudo-manuka we are no longer just competing with those other honeys, but could potentially undermine our existing manuka markets due to an oversupply.
Would an arrangement with an offshore packer be able to guarantee this undermining does not occur?
Consumers don’t suddenly consume 5000 tonnes more honey from a single market unless it is price competitive.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, without risking the manuka honey market though, and a concept such as John Hartnell has suggested could well play a role.
As an industry we need to promote our multifloral honey as a unique to New Zealand range of high-quality honey in its own right. This would be separate from manuka and focus on New Zealand origin, as the world attention has been refocused on us over the last year or so due to our successes fighting Covid-19 and our humanitarian efforts.
Such a strategy would be more realistic on a cost/profit basis if beekeepers were to determine the true cost of production for multifloral manuka honey, or any other non-manuka New Zealand varieties. Currently, most beekeepers lump all their costs together across their hives, whether that hive is generating manuka honey, or a less valuable crop. However, the non-manuka honeys do not require nearly the same outlay, be it helicopters, track maintenance, planting trees or just the myriad of costs associated with keeping hives alive and healthy in high-population manuka honey areas.
This more accurate accounting would in turn reduce the cost base for producing non-monofloral manuka honeys and allow us to compete more readily on price in the world marketplace, while working on a premium New Zealand focused marketing niche for these honeys.
A collective of beekeepers as honey suppliers could play a role in this strategy, but it should not be done in a way that will put our hard-earned monofloral manuka honey markets at risk.