FoodEx Japan 2018

Tea time for New Zealand Mānuka Group as beverage NPD steams ahead

By Gary Scattergood contact

- Last updated on GMT

The firm says it is continually seeking out new product development opportunities.
The firm says it is continually seeking out new product development opportunities.
New Zealand Mānuka Group is continuing to drive new beverage product innovation, with a tea range set to follow the recent launches of soft drinks and alcoholic beverages.

The firm is owned by Phil Caskey, who established New Zealand's first specialist mānuka honey company, Apimed, in 1996, before selling up in 2003.

In 2011, however, he was tempted back in and established tripartite agreements with Māori landowners​ and beekeepers with the aim of ensuring an open and fair return for all.

While its jars of traditional mānuka honey remain by far its biggest-selling products, sales director Leo Wong told us the company had been striving to boost its new product development, and better utilise the oil of the mānuka tree.

Speaking to us at the FoodEx Japan exhibition in Tokyo, he revealed the company had been working with a Japanese partner to create teas containing mānuka.

It has developed  green tea, matcha and hoji versions, and expects to create a finished-product brand in the next couple of months.

"We think these teas will be especially popular in Japan, but also in markets such as China, Singapore and the UK,"​ said Wong.

This range follows the creation of mānuka honey wines and liquors. The former is made by fermenting pure mānuka honey, and is combined with brandy and 23-carat gold flakes to make the latter.

Oil rush

The product is available in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, with regulatory approval pending in China.

There is also a non-alcoholic beverage range, but it is only available in the domestic market.

With mānuka honey being an expensive and finite resource, Wong added that the company was exploring more possible uses for mānuka oil.

"There is a lot of opportunity to increase the export of mānuka oil - the market is a lot smaller than Australian tea tree oil, for example," ​said Wong.

"Last year, mānuka oil exports stood at around five tonnes, and we did 3.5 tonnes of that. By 2020, we want that to be 50 tonnes."

In order to facilitate its growth objectives, the company has established a propagation and nursery programme which will enable it to plant over four million mānuka seedlings each year. 

Its landowner partners throughout the East Cape and Wairarapa regions are converting their land into fully irrigated horticulture operations so it can press ahead with its "super plant" ​developments.

"We are looking at how the oil could replace the honey in skincare products, toothpastes, lozenges and throat sprays,"​ added Wong.

"We'll also be looking to more work with beverages, possibly by incorporating other natural products and herbs."

The firm currently has four main brands: Melora, Kiwi Mānuka, Mānuka Secrets and Melcare.

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