Manuka honey has generated excitement among the health-conscious and affluent since the early 1980s, when a New Zealand scientist initially verified its distinctive antimicrobial properties. In the mid 2000’s, the Manuka industry was exporting approximately $40 million worth of honey. By 2017, that figure had expanded to $270 million. The gold rush was firmly under way. But nothing lasts forever. After a period of uncertainty, the industry is undergoing a significant transformation.
Spurred by a strong global economy and the emergence of Asia’s middle classes, demand for Manuka honey grew at exponential rates. Wanting to get in on this opportunity, lucrative Manuka prices prompted a surge of new beekeepers into the industry, resulting in the doubling of registered beehives to a staggering 918,026 in 2019. During this peak, honey achieved a record export price of $44.02/kg, and the country's honey harvest reached an all-time high of 27,000 tonnes. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic further amplified demand, with a 28% increase in export volumes in 2020.
Though Covid had many looking into their health and well being, restrictions placed great pressure on the industry as the closure of borders and the halt in domestic tourism, which traditionally accounts for 20% of local honey sales, triggered an industry downturn. Faced with oversupply and limited sales channels, honey companies began undercutting each other, leading to a significant drop in the average honey export price to $37.66/kg in 2021. This price decline resulted in a substantial stockpile, which Karin Kos, CEO of apiculture New Zealand believed to be around 15,000-30,000 tonnes of honey stored in warehouses around the country. This amount is well beyond the typical annual sales range of 11,000-13,000 tonnes.
To address the oversupply and pricing challenges, the industry is undergoing an adjustment towards more sustainable levels. The productive capacity has almost halved since its peak in 2019, with approximately 592,000 hives remaining. Some beekeepers have downsized their operations, while others have exited the industry altogether, creating a less cut-throat environment.
The 2023 season faced additional hurdles, being one of the wettest seasons on record. The impact of Cyclone Gabrielle in February also resulted in a significant dent in production. Despite these setbacks though, industry experts are optimistic that the sector is gradually moving towards a more balanced and sustainable future.
What’s instore for the future
The global Manuka honey market, valued at USD 369.6 million in 2022, is still projected to expand at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.16%, reaching USD 591.78 million by 2028.
However, with much of Manuka’s recent success tied to the growth and spending habits of Asia’s affluent middle classes, stagnation and uncertainty surrounding China’s economic future has prompted sellers to focus on growing other markets such as Europe and North America.
In response to the shifting landscape, some industry players are embracing collaboration as a strategic approach. The Mānuka Collective, a consortium of companies, is pooling resources and expertise to invest collectively.
As the New Zealand Manuka honey market recovers from an uncertain period, the industry is proactively adapting to new realities. This involves a recalibration of production levels, exploration of diverse global markets, and collaborative efforts to ensure the continued success of this invaluable commodity.