Miere Coalition

September 2014

Working to build Maori involvement in the Manuka honey industry

The Miere (Honey) Coalition is helping Maori become active players in the manuka honey industry, particularly on the East Coast, where existing businesses Tairawhiti Pharmaceuticals and Natural Solutions is already operating a manuka oil and honey business.

The Miere Coalition is made up of Poutama Trust, Te Tumu Paeroa (the new Maori Trustee) and the Federation of Maori Authorities, Ngati Porou Holdings.

Poutama Trust (which came out of the Maori Development Corporation) is the lead agency and principal funder of the Coalition. Poutama Trust has provided the resources to ensure the Miere Coalition is able to engage broadly with its stakeholders.

The Miere Coalition is also part of the Indigenous NZ Cuisine Cluster formed in 2012 with 12 small food and beverage businesses. This has grown to 30 businesses, but there is no formalised structure as yet. The cluster’s objective is to leverage collectivity and economies of scale and to foster collaboration.

There are three groupings of products in the cluster: seafood, wine and honey.

In late 2012 Poutama Trust, Te Tumu Paeroa and the Federation of Maori Authorities (FOMA) started talking about how to work together regarding manuka honey and co-ordinate their efforts.

Hui were held throughout 2013 with Maori honey retailers, Maori beekeepers and Maori landowners, who agreed to work together to develop a game plan for the industry, and to look at the value chain.

This year a business case including a financial model for a beekeeping business was completed for Ngati Porou Holdings Ltd. The Miere Coalition has a steering committee and Victor Goldsmith is the project director.

New Zealand honey exports have grown at a 30% compound rate for the past decade, reaching $145 million in 2013.

Exports are strong in Europe, the UK and Asia. Manuka honey is the most expensive honey in the world, driving the growth of the whole NZ honey industry.

Active manuka honey has scientifically proven health properties. Work has been carried out at Waikato University by Professor Peter Molan, “the godfather of manuka honey”, who has just retired.

Manuka hives yield less honey than average hives, at 22kg/hive compared with 32kg/hive for other honeys. Manuka honey prices have continued to rise in the last few years, with the highest UMF honeys the most expensive. In the last year UMF5 sold in NZ at $18.50/kg, UMF10 at $24/kg, UMF15 at $38.50/kg and UMF20 at $61/kg.

Landowners are paid per hive or a percentage of gross income. At an average production of 23.5kg/hive and at $22.50/kg each hive is grossing $528. Landowners can be paid $52-$105 as a result.

At retail, manuka honey can reach prices up to $600/kg, at wholesale they are around $140/kg. The landowner makes around $2.25/kg, the beekeeper $18.90/kg and the extractor $1.35/kg.

The best areas for manuka honey are on the East Cape, in Northland and in parts of the Central North Island.

Selecting a good site is important for a beekeeper. There’s a lot of competition for sites, and because of this the Coalition is calling for landowner/beekeeper protocols.

Another issue around manuka honey is that its activity level increases with time, so the timing of testing its activity level is important to determine its value.

Victor explains that Maori need to move from being passive landowners taking a small return from their manuka into a more active position within the manuka honey industry, including right through the supply chain. “We understand there is considerable value in accessing the manuka resource nationally.”

He wants to see the current guardians of the land set up industry and create employment opportunities utilising the manuka resource so it benefits current and future generations.

The Coalition’s dream is to have a single desk marketing company with a single Maori brand, which takes manuka honey to global markets. “We want to understand the needs of the end user and work our way right back through the supply chain onto the land that we own, and tell the story about its provenance.”

He says the current arrangement where beekeepers bring their hives onto Maori land and pay a rental for six to eight weeks is not sustainable for Maori as a people.

“We think we can do better than that, and look at the whole value chain. Let’s understand the industry. This is about leveraging our relationships further to look at opportunities.”

“The honey industry is a fragmented cottage industry with no innovation, tech transfer, quality standards or training. Those things are all missing. We want to use the best technologies available to ensure we produce good quality authentic honey, which is true to label.”

“The East Coast is a good place for us to start. Ngati Porou have a high concentration of Maori land with significant tracts of manuka.”

“We think Mark Kerr’s business is a model of how Maori can influence the industry. He’s been in business here for 20 years, and the business model works.”

Mark says “The starting point for this business was 23 years ago when two separate groups of us determined that the manuka from this area was quite unique. Australian tea-tree oil was in the market and we thought why not NZ ti-tree oil? We sent samples away for testing and the results surprised the scientists, who repeated the tests. Essentially we had found an oil with anti-microbial properties 10 to 30 times stronger than the Australian oil. That was the catalyst to set up this business, which was a combination of myself and a trust, that had been investigating the uses of manuka and kanuka. We put the company together in 1991 and continued researching the product and went fully commercial in 1994.”

“We have carried on since then and about 12 years ago we identified that honey was also of interest in the marketplace. Everyone who was buying manuka oil wanted honey as well.”

“We export our products all around the world – about 80% of our $2.5 million turnover is from export sales. Both ingredients and final products are exported. The business has been growing each year for the past five years after a quiet patch. About half the business is based around oil, the other half around honey. Almost all of our honey that we produce is marketed as fully packaged retail product. It is contract packed for us.”

“Here on this site we have a 24-hour oil extraction operation. Then we also have an on-site café and visitors’ centre where our products are displayed. We also have a small glass observation hive so people can watch the bees.”

“We have 30 or 40 hives in the paddock nearby (not on manuka at the moment as the season has finished). There are 10 staff on site, and we have between 15-25 out in the field harvesting manuka year-round. Production is concentrated in the warmer months but to keep our staff gainfully employed we process year round.”

“We are part of the Miere Coalition. Currently we are one of the few manuka businesses operating on the coast. The industry here is dominated by companies bringing their hives in for the manuka season, collecting the resource, and paying reasonable returns for access to manuka. It’s quite a passive involvement for most landowners on the coast, and the opportunity is there for much more involvement of the locals in the industry. We are keen to see that happen; we are already doing it.”

“I think ultimately it is about getting local people here actively involved in producing the products on their land.”