Does Manuka Honey need rebranding?

First published in New Zealand Herald 15 October 2015 

Cornish Pasties, Cheddar cheese and – Manuka Honey? News that Manuka Honey producers are seeking to trademark the name is no surprise given that the manuka brand has been a victim of its own success over the years.

It has been copied, its unique positioning misappropriated by lesser rivals, and more recently Manuka Honey has been discredited for the very reason it created such repute in the first place: does it actually do more than regular honey or is it all just placebo effect and great branding?

Whether you believe in the authenticity of its magical medicinal benefits, Manuka Honey is very much a brand, having crafted a great story over the years and gained extraordinary awareness in numerous international markets, including of course Australia.

Should this trademark petition be approved, manuka producers who are permitted to put that name on their jars, stand to make rather a lot of money.

Scarcity is a great marketing tool for the very obvious reason of its, well, scarcity compared with demand.

Anything bearing the name Manuka Honey commands a significant premium over regular product.

In Australia, it’s not unusual to pay $100 or more for a 500g jar.

But goodness me it’s confusing as a customer to know what’s real and what isn’t. The labeling has its own language and the cheap knockoffs in supermarkets put in a good effort to replicate the UMF ratings with their own meaningless accreditations. The end result is total customer bewilderment.

Unfortunately, as with a2 milk, there’s a real challenge ahead in proving outright health benefits through independent research. There will always be a grey zone of uncertainty.

From what I can see, there’s little peer review research for Manuka Honey’s antibacterial qualities over other honey. The only real comments I can find from medical practitioners say all honey is pretty good for your wounds, even if it doesn’t come from the manuka tree flowers. (To make things even more confusing, I’ve now learnt there’s something called Kanuka, which shares many qualities with its more prestige cousin and cannot always be differentiated in labs.)

So the industry need not worry too much yet about skeptics purchasing less product. With massive markets like China demanding good food from what it perceives to be clean and green countries, like New Zealand and Australia, potential is not yet fully realised.

If anything, news of the trademark request will generate some press (and it has) and remind us all to question products we buy and what the labels actually mean. It may even bring some protection on paper to this New Zealand originated product.

And we may see more and more of these types of cases over the years. As manufacturing continues to go global, not only companies but entire regions will seek to protect the very products that distinguish them in an increasingly indistinguishable business world.

I for one, will not mind paying a premium for authentic quality products. As long as those businesses don’t confuse me but show me something unarguably, genuinely, good.

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