New Zealand’s bid to gain exclusive use of the term “manuka honey” in the UK market was setback following a ruling from the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in December which denied a certification trademark (CTM). The Manuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS) will launch an appeal on behalf of the Kiwi interest though. Spokesman John Rawcliffe speaks with Apiarist’s Advocate to explain how their appeal is being made in the interest of UK consumers as well as Kiwi producers.
On March 2 the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) is holding a meeting of its members to seek support to continue the legal proceedings to protect the term “manuka honey” in the UK and other territories. The UMFHA’s support, as a collection of key manuka honey exporters, is fundamental for the CTM programme to continue.
It has been argued, by the Australian Manuka Honey Association, that manuka honey was widely used as a “descriptive term” for a type of honey and had not come to reflect an understanding among consumers that the honey exclusively originates from New Zealand.
However, MHAS contends that assertion with the fact that New Zealand manuka honey has dominated the market for the 22 years it has been exposed to the product.
“The CTM programme is based on the consumer. The consumer has, over the last 22 years, only ever received manuka from New Zealand, with just the odd drib or drab from elsewhere,” Rawcliffe explains.
"Australian producers weren't in the market. They came, they went, they came, they went. They never, ever, truly stayed in the market. The dominant supplier, the major supplier, to almost complete saturation, has been manuka from New Zealand.”
MHAS first got the ball rolling on New Zealand’s bid to gain some form of ownership of the term in the United Kingdom and other territories in 2015. It has been a key battleground ever since, while another important case will be ruled on in New Zealand this year as well. Within New Zealand the Manuka Charitable Trust (MCT) now represents the honey industry interests on the matter, with MHAS undertaking the current UK proceedings on their behalf. (Editor’s note: The MCT was recently profiled in the Apiarist’s Advocate, Manuka Trust’s Plan of Attack, January 2022 issue).
After the initial filing of a certification trademark in the UK — which would have meant the term manuka honey could only be used to describe honey gathered in New Zealand — a challenge to that filing was launched by the Australian producers and the Valeo Food Group, who distribute Rowse branded honey. That was the challenge upheld in December, forcing the latest appeal.
“There's a lot that the CTM programme is based on, but a key principle is that manuka, in the mind of the consumer, has only ever been presented as from New Zealand, and in all situations the label had the origin of that honey. So, for the last 22 years, all they have known, all they have been educated on, all they have seen, is the two things that are required for it to be a certified trademark under the rules: ‘manuka honey’ and ‘from New Zealand’.”
While MHAS is undoubtedly acting in the interest of Kiwi producers, they are also seeking to protect the consumer.
"We're here to ensure consumer expectations are met. For the past 20 years the consumer has been supplied honey made from nectar of the leptospermum scoparium species of plant from New Zealand under the name ‘manuka honey’. If that consumer is now being told that honey from any country and from any of the 80+ species of the leptospermum genus — which tastes different, flows different, and has different properties — is manuka, that could be described as misleading,” Rawcliffe says.
“We are affirming what the consumer knows and seeking to ensure the consumer continues to receive the product they expect.
“The expansion of species under a common name is exactly the same as going into a supermarket, collecting up every single lemon, orange, mandarin and lime and putting them in the same basket. I'm now calling them all limes because it's a name that’s worth more. You bite into it and go, that's totally different. Yes, they may all be citrus fruit, but they are not all limes – and so it goes with honey. Just because it’s thick and golden doesn’t mean it’s the same honey.”