New Zealand: the land of sheep’s milk and manuka honey

Would you spend $70 on a jar of honey?

Intrigued about New Zealand’s liquid gold, manuka honey, I parted with my remaining Kiwi dollars at Auckland airport last week, after a whirlwind business trip that was otherwise bereft of distinctively local experiences. What with the miserable rain, trannies at the local bar, the ASB bank branch dressed in CBA yellow and black, and efficient Hilton service – I could’ve been in Sydney.

Health and fitness products are my obsession. So far this week my ex-chef, now personal trainer husband has cooked three times from Pete Evans’ latest book (check out the carb-free fried rice). In my cupboard you’ll find goji berries, paleo porridge, cacao and coconut oil.

On weekends I live in Lululemon and Lorna Jane active wear. My last holiday was at an eco resort that had its own coconut plantation, made its own granola with ingredients sourced from the surrounding gardens and sold its own brand of naturally scented soy candles in the hotel gift shop.

I consume these healthy lifestyle products like they’re going out of fashion. And they will, most likely, when the next wave of superfoods and superbrands enter the market and take up shelf space in my home.

But the scientifically-proven, antibacterial manuka honey stands out for its staying power, with average year on year growth of 30% over a decade, in terms of export value. New Zealand now exports most of the manuka it produces, to the tune of over $100 million per year.

Like gold Rolexes, manuka honey is so lucrative that fraud is rife. About 1,700 tons of manuka honey are made in New Zealand – the source of almost all manuka honey in the world. But more than five times that amount is being sold internationally as manuka honey, including 1,800 tons just in the UK. As the Americans say, you do the math.

Some retail shops have attached security tags on their honey jars, to deter what’s been referred to as ‘middle class’ thievery. Kiwi producers operating close to large clumps of manuka trees have had turf disputes. Hives have been sabotaged or stolen.

So should you buy shares in manuka companies or have they already hit their sweet spot?

In five years, one of the largest producers, Manuka Health, grew from nothing to a value of $20 million with 50 staff.

The growth trajectory for the manuka industry looks set to continue because they have the perfect product – easily marketable as a guilt-free, natural sweet treat, valued for its medicinal properties, sourced from a small geographically unique area so it’s difficult to imitate, and rare.

Plus it’s endorsed by Hollywood. Scarlett Johanssen is a fan. She applies it on her smooth, glowing skin. And that’s the other thing – table and medicinal honey were just the beginning. You can buy manuka shampoo, moisturiser and mud masks. All packaged as clean, healthy 100% pure New Zealand products.

Lastly, evidently exit strategies within a three to five year time frame is a breeze, as manuka businesses are quickly snapped up by pharma companies or existing competitors, or successfully listed on the local exchange. Case in point: Comvita.

Disclaimer: No, really, I haven’t invested in any entity that makes manuka honey. Yet. So this is no investment promotion.


Feature image sourced from