Manuka honey holds the title of being the world’s most expensive honey with prices reaching up to £45 per jar. Authentic manuka honey is expensive because honey bees must forage from the wild manuka trees of New Zealand. To carry the manuka name in New Zealand at least 70% of the honey must be derived from the pollen of the manuka tree.
It has become a celebrity darling in recent years as stars such as Scarlett Johansson, Novak Djokovic and Gwyneth Paltrow tout the product’s unique health attributes. Some manuka consumers claim it can be used to treat ailments like acne, colds and even scars despite a lack of conclusive scientific evidence to support such claims. Nonetheless, sales of honey with the manuka name has skyrocketed, in part by health claims, because of its exclusivity, premium nature and distinctive color, taste and texture compared to other honey variants.
However, The Sunday Times revealed that many products labeled as manuka honey in major retailers may not be genuine. Fake manuka honey products are capitalizing on its popularity and high prices by using cheaper honey and labelling them as manuka or by using artificial ingredients to copy the texture, taste and viscosity of the honey to cut costs.
The problem of manuka counterfeiting is large as highlighted by the fact that New Zealand, the main manuka honey exporter, only produced 1,700 tons in 2016 despite over 10,000 tons sold globally and 1,800 tons imported to the UK alone. This is negatively impacting the entire supply chain as consumers and retailers are cheated while authentic manufacturers are undercut by counterfeiters.
Therefore, retailers and consumers will have to become more cautious about manuka honey to avoid being cheated. Currently, this means retailers will have to regularly test their stocks and demand greater transparency from suppliers to guarantee authenticity. In turn, consumers must research respected brands before purchases and avoid low cost manuka labels as these products are more likely to be counterfeit. Additionally, manufacturers must create more stringent labelling requirements, certifications and testing methods to ensure legitimacy.