• Maureen O'Shea, Partner |
3 min read

Why Manuka honey is a target for fraud

The health claims and exotic appeal of Manuka honey make this sweet, golden liquid extremely desirable not just to me, but across the globe. Unfortunately, it turns out you can have too much of a good thing.

In 2014, 1,800 tonnes of Manuka honey were sold in the UK alone. This is awkward because only approximately 1,700 tonnes of Manuka honey were produced in New Zealand in the first place. Most of what UK consumers were buying could not possibly be genuine Manuka honey – let alone the other 8,200 tonnes being sold across the world.

Manuka honey has become a victim of its own success. With prices reaching over ten times more than regular honey (and to the untrained eye, honey is honey), Manuka honey is ripe for fraud. 

Does it matter if my Manuka honey isn’t really Manuka?

Manuka fraud is not limited to simply mislabelling common honey. There are examples of firms adding additional ingredients to boost the value of their honey in order to avoid detection.

While food mislabelling may be seen primarily as a reputational risk for firms caught doing it, the consequences can be far more severe. Undeclared ingredients could have health implications, such as allergies, as well as other unexpected and severe health effects. The Chinese milk scandal in 2008 exposed how the addition of melamine to infant formula (to bolster the apparent protein content) led to the deaths of 6 infants and hospitalisation of over 50,000 babies.

The impact of food legitimacy scandals can be severe and expand beyond the companies involved to entire sectors, or even counties. For instance, the Chinese milk scandal led to the boycott of all Chinese dairy products in at least 11 countries.

These tales offer stark warning that without visibility across the supply chain, companies may be unaware of unethical or unscrupulous suppliers. The repercussions of any scandal, meanwhile, do not just impact the supplier, but the entire supply chain. This is particularly true for consumer-facing companies who ultimately stock the product. A scandal can lead to fines, negative PR and consumer boycotts. 

Taste test

Unfortunately, consumers are unlikely to be able to detect fake honey, as the taste and smell of true Manuka is similar to common honey, and even more difficult to discern from diluted Manuka honey. Given its rarity, consumers may also not be aware of what true Manuka should even taste like. Instead, we must rely on the robust supply chains of the companies who make and sell the products, including regular testing and auditing.

As of 2018, Manuka from New Zealand must pass a five-stage test involving both chemical and DNA markers, before being exported. To bolster the trustworthiness of their products, Holland and Barratt pledged they would also test every batch of their 34 types of Manuka honey (not once, but twice) using the guidelines outlined by the New Zealand government. 

More robust solutions

While laboratory tests can be useful, in the case of complex ingredients like honey they can have their limitations. Given the complex chemical fingerprint of honey, including seasonal variations, without a comprehensive database to compare results against, the possibility of false positives for fraud are possible.

Product testing is therefore only one piece of the jigsaw. In 2019 Blockchain was used to track a jar of Manuka honey from New Zealand to China, showing that the future for supply chain transparency, product verification and brand credibility is increasingly digital.

Companies now promote their products with a “Hive to Home” promise. Discerning consumers value not just testing, but traceability to demonstrate product authenticity. For Manuka honey, proving it is indeed the real deal requires a robust system of officially maintained databases of producers (down to GPS coordinates of each apiary), rigorous paperwork and independent testing. Whether you enjoy your Manuka in your porridge or on your toast, it is now possible to trace back your jar back to a specific hive in New Zealand.

The battle to protect the integrity of supply chains is increasingly multi-dimensional.  But what does this mean for your business? Are you able to truly understand and trace your supply chain from end-to-end, and leverage the benefits? Could your due diligence be improved, and what is the risk if you do not comply with your requirements? And how could digital enablement help you achieve this with additional benefits and increased efficiency for your business?

To discuss these and other questions related to supply chain integrity contact one of our team members