Local honey company wins big at international awards

When Raglan beekeepers Hannah and Rory O’Brien decided to ‘go big’ and enter the 2022 London International Honey Awards, they were too scared to tell anyone, thinking their brand might be too small for one of the world’s most prestigious honey awards. 

Co-owner and general manager Hannah O’Brien says they are now shouting it from the rooftops as their signature product, Kānuka honey has been awarded a silver medal in the competition. 

“We kept our entry completely secret because we didn’t know how our honey would go. But this result just proves that small businesses don’t need to be scared about putting their products on the world stage. We knew that what we were producing was amazing, and it just feels like such an honour to be recognised with such a high-profile award.” 

Entering the awards involved a rigorous testing process that began in February. 

“Our honey had to be thoroughly analysed for purity, authenticity, pollen composition, and chemical makeup. We even had to send a sample to Germany for analysis,” Hannah explains.

And the process didn’t go completely to plan. “Some of our samples were misplaced by the lab, so I actually had to send our entry without any test results, because I knew the shipping delays to London could be pretty significant. I was frantically emailing the organisers to ask if I could send my lab results in by email, and luckily, they were really understanding,” she says.

Now entering their seventh year of trading, the couple have big goals, including international sales. Co-owner and head of beekeeping operations Rory O’Brien wants to see their honey on the shelves in some of the world’s best department stores. 

“We want to be leaders in sourcing and promoting rare and unique New Zealand honey varieties. Mānuka honey is incredible and it’s done great things for the industry. It’s time to look at what’s next, and for us, all the indicators are pointing at Kānuka. Entering these awards was a great way to get some validation.”

The O’Briens produce a range of raw, sustainable honey from their base near Raglan and sell to 65 retailers throughout New Zealand, including selected New World supermarkets, Farro Fresh, Commonsense Organics, and Moore Wilson’s. 

Their focus on ethical treatment of their bees and their commitment to sustainability was highlighted in their appearance on Country Calendar in 2020, and they’ve won numerous NZ awards for both their honey and their business achievement – including a gold medal for their most popular product, their Kānuka honey. 

Kānuka honey is shaping up to become ‘the next big thing’ in the New Zealand honey scene, with Taupō based research company, the Kānuka Science Group, recently receiving funding from Callaghan Innovation to help with the research into its unique properties. 

Although the Kānuka plant is similar in appearance to its more well-known cousin, Mānuka, it appears that Kānuka honey may have its own set of unique properties. 

So, what’s next for Hunt and Gather Bee Co? In the coming weeks the O’Briens will launch their Special Harvest range, aimed at an international audience as a collection of rare New Zealand honeys. The range will include their now international award winning Kānuka honey. “Winning this silver medal has given us the confidence that, while we may be a small company, we can actually compete with the big guys on the world stage, and we can absolutely hold our own. Now we have to get our incredible honey out there and share it with the world,” Hannah says.

The company offering to the international market will be capped each year; a move the O’Briens hope will keep their production sustainable to protect their bees and the land. This should also help to create demand and set their honey aside as a limited edition, niche product.