One of the strongest harvests on record, together with a big lift in sales resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, have combined to brighten the outlook for New Zealand's mānuka honey sector.
The harvest, which ends soon, is well up on last year, and mānuka honey is in demand overseas for its claimed health benefits.
It's not all good news, however. Domestic sales aimed at the incoming tourism sector have been hit hard as countries go into Covid-19 lockdown and air travel subsides.
Comvita - the country's biggest mānuka honey exporter - saw its share price rally by 71c or 25 per cent to $3.50 last Friday after the company said the strong demand indicated in mid-March had continued, resulting in a quarter of double digit growth, year-on-year.
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"We were profitable in each month and have generated good cashflows and working capital improvements that have enabled us to continue to reduce debt," Comvita said.
The company reported a $27.7 million annual loss last year and a $12.9m shortfall in the first half to December.
Comvita said this year's honey harvest had increased by more than 60 per cent, year-on-year, with more than 95 per cent of the extraction complete.
In addition, the quality of the crop, with unique mānuka factor (UMF) of over 10, had improved by more than 150 per cent.
Chief executive David Banfield said the turnaround meant the company had been able to pay down debt, and had supported Comvita's decision made in late March to postpone its the planned capital raising.
Sales at the second biggest mānuka honey exporter - Mānuka Health - have also taken off.
Mānuka Health chief executive Ben Boase said the initial outbreak saw people seek out hand sanitisers and face masks.
"I think it then extended into vitamin C, when people started thinking about their immunity," Boase said.
"Now, in some territories, it is settling a bit and consumers, more and more, are turning to some of the more natural solutions for general immunity," Boase told the Herald.
"Some of our distributors in our key markets are doubling or tripling their usual orders for this time of year," Boase said, adding there had been a big lift in demand from China, Europe, the United States and Japan.
"The New Zealand-only business is suffering but the export trade is booming everywhere," he said.
About 95 per cent of New Zealand's mānuka honey is exported.
Depending on the export destination, sales were up buy 50 to 100 per cent in March, and that same trend had continued into April, he said.
"We are also experiencing some volatility as various countries around the world go in and out of lock down, which has an impact on the supply chain," Boase said.
He said the season just finishing was the strongest since the company was founded in 2006.
"The [Covid-19] event, while unfortunate, will lift the mānuka honey industry over the next few years," he said.
At the non-mānuka end of the honey supply chain, there had probably been a weakening of sales - export sales in particular. In turn, that had driven some high inventory levels in New Zealand, Boase said.
A more stringent definition of what constitutes mānuka honey - put in place by the Ministry for Primary Industries - had also had a diluting impact on the pricing of lower manuka honey grades, he said.
Jude Salisbury, managing director of online retailer ManukaHoneyofNZ.com, said there had been hefty increase in online demand for product, particularly for the higher UMF grades.
"The perception is that it is good for general wellbeing and the immune system, to fend off colds and flus," she said.
Natural health products had seen a resurgence over the past five years, Salisbury said.
"People are going back to basics, and back to realising that natural remedies do have a place in this world," she said.