New Zealand: Rise in beekeeping and low demand leads to surplus of mānuka honey, says report

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A report by the Guardian shows how a boom in beekeeping with slowing demand for mānuka honey has New Zealand “drowning” in it with a current stockpile of up to 30,000 tonnes of honey. Reportedly, in the past 5 years, there was a global desire for this type of honey and because of the Covid-19 pandemic when people turned to home remedies some of them involved honey and the mānuka honey saw a price hike during that time. 

This was described as a honey gold rush for farmers in New Zealand, but now that the demand is slowing there is a major surplus leaving Wellington with reserves of honey. According to an estimate by Karin Kos, chief executive of Apiculture New Zealand, there are 15,000-30,000 tonnes of honey stockpiles in the country. 

“We had a massive bumper crop in 2020 – there was a national honey harvest of about 27,000 tonnes – well above the average of 19,000. So that alone is a surplus of 12,000 tonnes”, said Kos to the Guardian. Annually, they sell around 11,000-13,000 tonnes of honey, but with the bumper in 2020 with more people becoming beekeepers, the farmers ended up with a massive stockpile. Kos has also attributed this to the lack of tourists in the country during the pandemic which affected the gate sales. 

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In 2017, New Zealand’s mānuka honey garnered attention for its supposed health properties which sent the price of the honey soaring. According to the report, a 230g pot of the highest quality mānuka honey was being sold at a whopping NZ$2,621. Similarly, the bulk price for the country’s honey which was valued at NZ$37.50 per kg in 2010 rose to NZ$100 per kg. 

Unfortunately, this price hike gave rise to incidents of stealing of hundreds of hives or honey stores over the year, said the report. However, it did not stop there, in 2016, the competition among the beekeepers became so fierce that it led to many cases of vandalism and mass poisoning of hives, together these incidents were seen as a bizarre wave of crime for mānuka. 

This also led people to keep bee hives for themselves and others to want to start beekeeping because of the lucrative market for the mānuka honey. By 2020, there were at least a million hives in New Zealand compared to the 300,000 two decades earlier. “People thought that mānuka would be the golden egg – lots and lots of money,” Jane Lorimer, a Waikato beekeeper and president of New Zealand Beekeeping, told the Guardian. 

However, Kos pointed out that during this time no doubt more and more people were getting into the mānuka honey industry, but what they did not understand is how difficult beekeeping is, “People think it’s quite simple – it requires a lot of skill.”

Reportedly, this month, the mid-range mānuka which would sell for somewhere between $65-$85 a kg in 2018 is now selling for as low as $25/kg. Similarly, the lower grade South Island mānuka honey which would sell for at least $36 per kg is now down to $26 per kg. 

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A report by the country’s Ministry of Primary Industries said that demand for mānuka honey soared during the onset of the pandemic when people were looking for “health-boosting foods”. In 2021, New Zealand exported a record volume which earned the country a record total revenue of $482 million. However, this could not be sustained as the total export volume is forecasted to fall by 15%. 

Meanwhile, the demand for multi-floral mānuka honey blends fell by 10% this year but the international price of single-strain mānuka honey has been consistent, said the government report. Additionally, while most of New Zealand-produced honey is exported the domestic market has not fared well either amid low demand in recent years. The prices have reportedly dropped as much as 50% as bulk buyers are relying on stockpiles. 

According to Kos, the recent hive numbers have fallen to about 720,000 hives and are expected to reduce further, estimating that the industry should be sustainable with 600,000 hives. “The reality is we are seeing people leave the industry. We are seeing companies consolidate…I think there have been people getting into the market underprepared. And they’ve been getting out again, too,” said Kos to the Guardian. 

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