Fighting for the right to a name

John Rawcliffe, from Unique Manuka Factor in New Zealand says protection of a regional brand is paramount to market success. He is now appealing to Australians to find their own provinance when it comes to branding medical honey.Kiwis are good at holding on to their brand – and especially excellent at making their own name from a foreign product – the famousfruit bearing their moniker being the best case in point.

Now New Zealand manufacturers of medically proven Manuka honey are in a fightto protect provenance.

John Rawcliffe,Administratorof theUnique Manuka Factor honey association, says each regionalsuppliershould pursue its ‘own journey, with its own names in its own words’. He is concerned that with plantings of proper Leptospermum varieties in China, Taiwan and Portugal, the valuable niche product Manuka will become a commodity and ‘everyone will lose’.

“If we lose the ability to distinguish in the marketplace what is unique to NZ Manuka honey and Australian Jellybush honey we effectively start the process of commoditising,” he says.“This is not an Australia vs New Zealandissue; other countries have already started to plant leptospermum species. One could argue that the Australian honey industry is seeking a short term gain that will ultimately result in a lose-lose.”

Tasmanian apiarists tell a very different story. In the Apple Isle honey fromLeptospermumscopariumhas been called Manuka in print since 1884 and obviously beyond that in conversation. While the word is clearly Polynesian the plant is probably not. In fact University of Sunshine Coast researcher Dr Peter Brook says there is sound evidence to suggest prevailing winds blew seed from Tasmania to New Zealand, same as red dust gets deposited on the glaciers of Mt Cook.

“What are we going to call our honey,” asked Nicola Charles, managing director of Blue Hills Honey at Mawbanna. “We would be extremely concerned if we couldn’t use the word Manuka and we certainly won’t be marketing it as ‘goo bush’.

“We are artisans producing 30 tonnes each year and can’t compete with New Zealand,” she said noting this season was poor with only eight to 10 tonnes in production.

More recently Manuka’s threat wasn’t from another region but from fakers who spruiked ordinary honey as something extraordinary.

In response Unique Manuka Factor commissioned a group of scientists to come up with a chemical fingerprint targeting spikes inLeptosperin, and phenyllactic acids easily read by a hand held ‘Manuka meter’ which now instantly identifiesthe pure product. Faking the brand is no longer an issue.

Leptospermum polygalifolium makes the most productive medical honey on the North Coast but its native colloquil name, Jellybush, hardly makes for inspiring marketing. Manuka is better.

Once was dumped The unusual anti-bacterial and anti-fungal honey was once very little value. For years it was a cursed product with apiarists winging about how the thixotropic goo used to damage equipment during extraction. Now the medical science behind the Manuka’s claims is undeniable and the market has latched on with prices for Manuka honey back to the apiarist in the order of $40/kg. In London shops a 250g jar can retail for the same price.

Dr Peter Brook, University Sunshine Coast, says the Manuka standard should contain at least 100ppm honey from pollen of the Leptospermum bush of which there are 83 species in Australia and only one in New Zealand!

“They all have different properties, he said. “Some are good for anti-bacterial, some are good for anti-inflammatory action.” Currently chromatography is defining the varieties through unique fingerprints.

Prior to the standard, clover honey might be fakedby cooking it until it turned a dark red, like Manuka, before being passed off as the real thing.

The new Manuka standard is actually a ‘floor’ standard with quality products containing much higher levels of activism.

“Bees collect pollen from every flower in a two kilometer radius so the honey is already well mixed,” explained Dr Brook. “But in a good honey flow you can expect about 500ppm Manuka.”

Mr Rawcliffe said the usual test for medicinal honey used peroxide levels with +15 a good example of active jellybush honey. Trouble is that system can be faked with the activity increasing as the honey ages.

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