New Zealand honey exports soared 41 per cent to a new record last year as the country benefited from demand for high-value manuka honey.
The value of honey exports jumped to $285 million in 2015 from $202 million in 2014, according to the latest Statistics New Zealand data.
The country's honey exports have surged from just $36 million a decade ago, driven by the popularity of honey sourced from the manuka tree, which is prized for its health benefits.
"The honey industry is a real success story with strong growth in exports," said Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy. "This is a good example of New Zealand producing high-quality products that attract a high price from premium consumers. The strong demand from overseas is likely to mean continued growth in the industry here.
"The dairy industry gets a lot of headlines but it is worth celebrating other primary industries which are having exceptional results, like honey, horticulture and kiwifruit."
A government and industry primary growth partnership aims to increase the annual value of New Zealand's manuka honey industry to $1.2 billion by 2028 and investment is going into product development and extracting more volume from manuka. The industry has limited competition, given the species only grows naturally in New Zealand and Australia.
However it faces challenges around what constitutes manuka honey amid concerns about counterfeiting and consumer confusion.
Australia was the largest market for New Zealand honey last year, taking $48.6 million of product. That was followed by the UK, which imported $46 million, China on $45.3 million, Hong Kong with $34.8 million, the US with $26.3 million and Singapore on $20 million, according to the latest data.
The export statistics cover natural honey, and exclude the use of manuka honey as an additive in health and nutritional products and medical-graded product used for wound treatment, which attracts a higher value.
Demand for manuka honey products has helped underpin sales for Comvita, the listed manuka honey and health products maker. Its share price has surged 132 per cent the past year, making it the fourth-best performing stock on the S&P/NZX All Capital Index.