Manuka honey from New Zealand is imported to the U.S. by Pennsylvania-based Wedderspoon Organic Holdings. It was responsible for 73% of the combined growth of the Manuka category last year at conventional grocery, natural and specialty stores, according to Food Navigator. The products are carried by Publix, Sprouts, CVS and Natural Grocers outlets, the site reported.
The Manuka bush — related to the tea tree — only grows in New Zealand and imparts a distinctive flavor and potential health benefits to the honey, according to the company. The latter includes antibacterial activity, which Manuka honey seems to provide even at low concentrations.
"We knew from the beginning that the potential for Manuka Honey in the U.S. market was massive, and to do it right would take a thoughtful and unconventional approach rooted in consumer education, innovation, and traceability in the supply chain from hive to home," Rebecca Remley, CEO of Wedderspoon, told Food Navigator.
Wedderspoon claims Manuka honey is "one of the most multi-dimensional foods in the world" because it contains complex sugars, live enzymes and other naturally occurring compounds. Honey also has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar, so it absorbs into the bloodstream more slowly.
According to the company's CEO, studies show Manuka honey has benefits as a topical treatment. Five studies are currently using the product to test its medicinal properties for treating wounds and pressure ulcers, she told Food Navigator.
Manuka honey is raw and hasn't been pasteurized, so the product contains bee pollen, beeswax and propolis and is touted as being fresher and more natural — elements today's consumers are looking for in sweeteners.
Wedderspoon also emphasizes traceability and asserts that every single jar it handles can be tracked back to the master beekeeper in New Zealand, another attractive quality in a marketplace where transparency is increasingly emphasized.
According to Mintel, honey sales in the U.S. rose 57% between 2011 and 2016, while sugar sales dropped. One reason is honey's reputation as a natural ingredient and as a healthier sugar substitute. Honey can be used in place of cane sugar to make baked goods such as bread and cereals when it has the same attributes like color, extended shelf life, structure development and browning.
The U.S. natural honey category is estimated at $342 million and growing at a nearly 11% rate, Food Navigator noted. Manuka makes up about 5% of the segment, with $17.5 million in sales, but it has a 22.2% growth rate. These factors continue to enhance the demand for raw, organic honey — particularly when it's sourced from relatively remote places and wears a health halo.
One challenge for the product: Manuka honey is not cheap. Wedderspoon's prices per pound are about three times that of raw, unpasteurized honey produced in the U.S. That could deter most shoppers from giving it a try — regardless of the health claims — while limiting just how big the market for this product could become.