- Third-party tests on 30 top-selling honey products sold at retail in the U.S. found no adulteration in the 28 labeled as pure honey, according to the Honey Integrity Task Force, which has representatives from all areas of the honey industry. The Phoenix-based organization said the brands tested comprised about 40% of all retail honey sold.
- RQA, Inc., an independent company based in Illinois hired to conduct the study, acquired samples from stores across the U.S., masked the brand names and sent them to two independent labs in Germany. The two found to be adulterated were correctly labeled as honey blends. One was imitation honey made with maltitol syrup, and the other contained corn syrup and honey.
- The task force plans to continue more testing throughout the year. Christi Heintz, director of the Honey Integrity Task Force, said in a release, "While the results of this study are very encouraging, we certainly aren't declaring victory. We view it as validation that our efforts are working, and we hope it gives consumers more confidence in a system that's been created to protect them."
As consumers demand more transparency about what's in their food, the study by the recently formed Honey Integrity Task Force could be a promising sign for an ingredient whose growth shows little signs of stopping.
Mintel reported that honey, which is perceived as a healthier substitute for sugar, saw sales in the U.S. jump 57% between 2011 and 2016, while sugar sales dropped 16%. Its per-capita consumption in the U.S. also rose to 1.4 pounds in 2017, the highest level since 2000, according to Statista. And the trend is likely to continue, as the U.S. natural honey category is estimated at $342 million currently and growing at a 10.8% rate, Food Navigator noted.
Because of its popularity and relative health halo, honey is showing up more often in products from big food manufacturers like Unilever, which debuted a honey-sweetened form of Hellmann's and Best Foods' brand ketchup last year.
Those in the honey industry may be breathing a sigh of relief as this study stands in contrast to the controversy that embroiled the olive oil industry last year. Many companies were accused of fraud for mislabeling supposedly premium extra-virgin olive oil when in fact it was mixed with lower-quality oils. While many tests discovered fraud, olive oil producer Deleo declared victory at the end of 2018 when one case for false and misleading statements on social media got a permanent injunction and a mislabeling lawsuit was dismissed. Regardless the stigma still exists, an issue honey makers will want to steer clear to continue capitalizing on its popularity.
The formation of the Honey Integrity Task Force represents a continued effort by the industry to prioritize the purity of the product. It has also adopted safeguards in recent years to reduce the chances that products labeled as pure honey will contain sugar or syrup. As part of its ongoing brand-protection efforts, Honey Integrity Task Force plans to conduct additional tests this year. While this study was clear, the task force may want to consider expanding its testing to detect pesticide traces, a growing consumer concern. Swiss researchers testing honey samples from around the world in 2015 and 2016 found neonicotinoid pesticide residues in 75% of them.