New Zealand honey exports doubled in November as the country benefited from demand for high-value manuka honey.
The value of honey exports jumped to $27.4 million in November from $13.6 million the same month a year earlier, according to the latest Statistics New Zealand data. That helped boost the annual value of honey exports in the 12 months through November by 45 percent to $281 million, the figures showed.
New Zealand is the world's third-largest exporter of honey by value, behind China and Argentina. However it is only the 16th biggest global supplier on a volume basis, reflecting the premium price garnered for manuka honey, which accounts for as much as 80 percent of New Zealand exports and is prized for its health benefits.
"A lot of it is related to manuka honey which is quite a large proportion of overall New Zealand honey sales," said ANZ Bank New Zealand rural economist Con Williams.
"You are really seeing the growth in that industry starting to take off more and more. Manuka honey is one of those small sectors that have got good growth prospects."
ANZ's Williams said it is one of the sectors he would invest in himself, given a "pretty attractive" 10 to 15 percent estimated return from a new manuka plantation on marginal hill country, which would also help a landowner meet tighter environmental standards.
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.
"It's got a wide range of uses into a whole range of different segments or categories," Williams said.
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.
Companies benefiting from development of manuka honey include NZX-listed Comvita and hobbyists are increasingly developing more serious businesses as sales and revenues build, Williams said.
Still, he said the industry faces challenges around what constitutes manuka honey and a common standard and definition is needed to avoid counterfeiting and consumer confusion.
The industry has limited competition, given the species only grows naturally in New Zealand and Australia with relatively low pest and disease rates, he said. Australia provides little competition at present with a competing product known as 'bush jelly' from a similar species of tree, he said.
In the latest export data, New Zealand's biggest honey markets are Australia, the UK, China and Hong Kong. Global import demand is estimated to be about US$2.1 billion (NZ$3.1 billion) and Williams says the largest growth opportunities for New Zealand exporters are wealthier countries who are high consumers of honey where New Zealand has low penetration such as the US, Germany, France and other European countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
While the high volume markets tend to pay $21-$28 a kilogram, higher value markets will pay $30-$50/kg and medical grade manuka can fetch up to $1,000/kg, Williams said.