• Patrick Dawkins

Export Honey Volumes Declining

New Zealand is tracking towards a decline in honey exports for the year ended June 2022, but honey value is up, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) latest Situation and Outlook report. How does that align with what exporters ‘on the ground’ are seeing? We check in with John Hartnell, managing director of Hartnell and Associates, and Sean Goodwin, chief executive of 100% Pure New Zealand Honey, to get their takes.

Sean Goodwin.

While the New Zealand honey industry continues to work through the sale of several years of honey stores, MPI reports a reduction in the main method of moving product: export volume. Believed to be hindering that export channel, particularly in manuka honey, are congested supply chains. They were filled during early stages of the global pandemic, resulting in a record export period, with 12,788 tonnes of honey recorded as sent offshore in the 12 months to June 2021. However, New Zealand is tracking towards a decline to approximately 11,000 tonnes in the 12 months to June 30 2022.

“The bulk market is slow and retail prices are soft,” Sean Goodwin says.

“As an industry we're still sitting on a hell of a lot of stock from the 2020 bumper crop and two subsequent seasons. So it's tough times, but we've got to believe that the medium and certainly long-term prospects remain positive.”

MPI’s report states “honey exporters will be looking for both domestic and overseas stocks to clear to support higher prices in the coming seasons”.

With only the “blunt object” of total exports providing detail on how much honey is in the global supply chain, knowing when that will clear is difficult, Goodwin says. However, he concurs with MPI’s prediction that it could be at least 12 months more, while also expecting manuka honey prices to “stay where they are for the foreseeable future”.

With the world opening up again, post-Covid, there is optimism the honey channels will eventually clear and more demand will result.

“We need markets to open up. Shanghai, Japan and Singapore are now only just starting to get going. These are our traditional markets. It's interesting to look at markets like the UK, where we're seeing consumers now returning to stores and balance shift back, from online ordering, to offline again. So, we will see it come back,” Goodwin says.

Even before talk of the congested honey chain offshore, the “stockpile” of honey within New Zealand existed, with it looming over the market and depressing honey prices for the best part of four years.

"There are beekeepers throughout the country that are carrying stock that's perhaps three, and now even up to four, years old,” long-time exporter John Hartnell says.

“They haven't been able to find a home for it. So, I understand that buying by the larger players, this year, is down on last year.”

He believes a continuing reduction in the national hive numbers is the likely outcome as the industry moves to balance production and demand through “market forces”.

Registered hive numbers nationally have decreased from a high of 918,000 in 2019 to 806,000 in 2021, with the 2022 count yet to be released.

Non-manuka honey prices have increased according to MPI’s report, up 20% on 2021 as a greater proportion was shipped in “retail packs” rather than bulk. That price rise is something Hartnell – who exports a lot of beech honey dew – has witnessed, with that honey lifting around $1/kg in value in the past year.

“There is demand for bush honey at the moment, although I'm not sure what they're doing with it. There's been good demand for pastoral clover honey too and we only had an average season. So that's probably assisted the beekeeper and the price returned,” Hartnell says.

John Hartnell.

The MPI report points to the opening of borders and thus the opportunity for exporters to get out and travel more freely to market their honey as a potential aid to greater export, while also forecasting a “rebound” in the domestic market as our own borders open.

“Prior to our borders closing there was a large, unknown grey market,” Hartnell explains.

“Product bought by international tourists to be taken back to the to their country, and it was quite large. We are talking cartons of product, not jars. How do you quantify that? I have no idea.”

With export honey volume down, MPI also predicts total export revenue for the year to be down $42million on the record-setting 2021 year, to $440million. Manuka honey has seen an 8.3% price increase to an average kg price of $55.83. However, multifloral manuka honey has fallen 10 percent in value as a much greater percentage of it was sent offshore in bulk (rather than retail packs) in 2022.

New Zealand’s top honey export markets are the USA (with a 22% share), China (19%), the European Union (excluding UK) (13%), the UK (10%) and Japan (9%).


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