Tasmania's rain-forest honey creates buzz in Asia
As household incomes rise across Southeast Asia, markets for premium-quality foods are expanding. One beneficiary is the Australian honey industry, which is now worth over $100 million and exports 4,500 tonnes of honey per year. According to the Chairman of the Australian Honey-bee Industry Council, Lindsay Bourke, Tasmania is reaping the benefits.
'Tasmanian Leatherwood and Manuka honeys are a hit in Malaysia and Singapore,' says Bourke. 'Buyers from Asia love Tasmanian honey and our brands have an international reputation. Meanwhile consumers trust Australia's industry-developed, quality-assurance standards. Tasmania's four-biggest producers now export honey worth $8 to $10 million per year.'
The popularity of Australia's premium honey sweetens a vibrant export trade. In 2016, Australia exported sugar, molasses and honey worth $767 million to ASEAN countries, surpassing beef exports to the region. Rising demand is encouraging Australia's 2,000 commercial beekeepers to find new, high-value markets overseas.
Bourke's own company – Australian Honey Products (AHP) – is one of these exporters. Based in Sheffield, near Cradle Mountain, Bourke's apiary business began over three decades ago. Today his company owns over 4,000 hives, which produce approximately 200 to 250 tonnes of honey for export each year.
'AHP exported $140,000 worth of Leatherwood and Manuka honey to Malaysia and Singapore in 2016,' he says. 'The Singapore market is growing especially fast: our exports to the city-state grew by a factor of five last year alone. My perception is that as household incomes grow, people want to spend more on high-quality food products for their family.'
According to Bourke, premium honey is five to six times more valuable than regular honey, while Tasmania's unique Leatherwood variety has become synonymous with the state. Produced by bees that pollenate flowering, under-canopy Leatherwood trees, it is harvested from Tasmania's cool-weather rainforests only during January and February.
'Tasmania has huge kudos within the honey industry,' says Bourke. 'We take hives into pristine, World Heritage-listed forests in December to capture the Manuka crop from high-altitude areas over a three-week period. We switch to Leatherwood harvesting at the beginning of January, and this now delivers over 70 per cent of APH production.
Tasmania's aromatic honeys are winning accolades around the world. In 2015, AHP took the top trophy – World's Best Honey – at the World Apicultural Congress in Daejeon, South Korea. In the following year, the company became the first Tasmanian company to win Small Business Exporter of the Year in the Australian Export Awards.
Bourke credits Austrade for helping to connect Tasmanian producers to markets in Southeast Asia. This includes bringing buyers from Southeast Asia to Tasmania, and facilitating visits by trade delegations. The ASEAN – Australia – New Zealand Free Trade Agreement is also promoting the expansion and professionalisation of Tasmanian honey production.
'Trade agreements give us the confidence to keep growing,' says Bourke. 'Today, we're bringing young apprentices into what used to be an old-man's business and their enthusiasm is terrific. We've also had the confidence to build a state-of-the-art extraction plant and apiarist training centre in Sheffield. This plant is already operating to capacity.'