James Annabell has sage advice for any business wanting to crack international markets - do not underestimate the differences in consumer behaviour and market nuances.

"I think many people roughly assume that New Zealand and Australia are the same. But, a very different strategy is required for success" said Annabell.

Annabell is the founder of Egmont Honey, a business he started with his father Toby, after falling into the industry "by mistake" while working in Hong Kong as a professional rugby player.

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Now Egmont Honey is about to launch its New Zealand Clover brand into 900 Woolworths stores across Australia.

Egmont's Waimete creamy honey brand. Photo / Will Egmont
Egmont's Waimete creamy honey brand. Photo / Will Egmont

The Australian expansion started when Egmont Honey was approached directly by Woolworths via a cold call from the category manager, who proposed an exclusive brand agreement for its Waimete Honey Co label.

"At first, I thought it was a friend playing a prank" said Annabell.

"We're now in Woolworths stores in every state apart from Western Australia, due to their laws on importing honey."

Although Woolworths has stocked the company's Waimete Honey Co range, since early 2018, Annabell said Egmont Honey still needed to put the work in to make exports a success in Australia.

"Like other markets, we invest in brand awareness via very targeted media and PR spend.

"We also like to think that we are a very customer-centric organisation and we work hard to build strong, long lasting relationships with both our end consumer and corporate consumer (supermarket buyer)."

Photo / Will Egmont
Photo / Will Egmont

Recently MPI announced a two-tiered scientific definition for manuka honey which has been great for the industry, said Annabell.


"It really drew a line in the sand."

The initiative has been well received by retailers and consumers, who say they can now rely on the MPI definition and be confident that what they are buying is genuine multifloral or monofloral manuka honey said Annabell.

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Trends within the health and wellness industry have contributed to the success of mānuka honey, along with consumers' preference for more natural and less refined forms of sugar in honey.

New Zealand's strict bio-security laws have also been helpful said Annabell.

"There have been various stories run in Australia over the past year or so highlighting large honey corporates blending Australian honey with foreign products.

Egmont's Waimete liquid honey brand. Photo / Will Egmont
Egmont's Waimete liquid honey brand. Photo / Will Egmont

"The fact it's highly illegal to import honey into New Zealand means that customers can be 100 per cent confident that when consuming New Zealand honey there is zero chance that they could be eating honey blended with honey produced in another country. 100 per cent Pure NZ honey".

And while Australian marketers have tried to take their "jelly bush" honey and re-brand it as Australian manuka, the educated consumer has not been fooled, opting for the Kiwi counterpart.

"New Zealand mānuka honey has a far superior taste, so it really does taste as good as it makes you feel.

"New Zealand clover honey is also hard to match – creamy or liquid," said Annabell.

However, while the genuine mānuka honey price has remained strong, the prices of non-mānuka honeys have fallen dramatically in the last 12 months, despite their popularity, but all was not lost said Annabell.

Egmont's Mānuka honey brand. Photo / Will Egmont
Egmont's Mānuka honey brand. Photo / Will Egmont

"Essentially, through the New Zealand honey boom, the likes of New Zealand clover honey priced itself out of the market and got delisted around the world.

"As marketers, we are starting at ground zero to get this honey back on the shelf around the world. The prices are now back at a level to help this prospect, which is exciting".

The Woolworths deal has been welcomed by the wider New Zealand honey industry as many beekeepers continue to face tough times.

"Our beekeeper suppliers are very important to us and we have some great relationships".

Egmont Honey buys bulk honey from all over New Zealand to top up the supply from their own hives.

There are new ventures on the horizon for Egmont Honey, which is potentially looking to launch mānuka honey-based skincare products in the near future.