Purity provides the key to success for SA honey producers

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By David Sly

Fake honey? Consumers familiar with South Australia’s fraternity of artisan honey producers scoff at such a notion.

The provenance of locally procured honey has provided a commercial boon for a suite of SA honey producers for many years in global markets, with careful harvesting placing the authenticity of their honey beyond question.

When news recently broke of a substitution scandal affecting imported bulk honey, Buzz Honey in the Adelaide Hills was inundated with a host of endorsements from their loyal customers.

“Many customers immediately emailed us, saying that’s why they’ve been buying our honey for such a long time, because they know it’s pure,” says Buzz Honey managing director Annette Ferris.

“Our products have a clear paddock-to-plate story. We know all of our bees, the flowers they source nectar from, and every honey sourced from different sites is kept separate. Such attention to detail is our point of difference.”

Buzz Honey beekeepers in an orange orchard.

Local producers have promoted the provenance of SA honey through rigorous education of consumers. An important asset for Buzz Honey has been its “hive door” sales facility in Hahndorf’s main street.

With the retail shop featuring a glass-walled hive containing 20,000 bees, visitors observe how honey is made, then can taste different honeys sourced from different regions and tree blossoms: Bluegum from Adelaide Hills, Orange Blossom from Riverland, and Bush Mallee from the Murray Mallee district.

“The specific taste differences have taught a lot of people that true honey has a lot of individual character and depth of flavour that defies imitation,” says Annette.

Authenticity has long been a hallmark of Island Beehive on Kangaroo Island, one of Australia’s largest organic honey producers, selling up to 200 tonnes of honey each year to local and international buyers.

Proprietor Peter Davis built the reputation of the honey he produces around the provenance of the island’s Ligurian bees, imported from Italy by the SA Chamber of Manufactures in the early 1880s, which led to the 4500 square-kilometre island being declared a bee sanctuary.

Beekeeper and honey producer Peter Davis, left, is passionate about Kangaroo Island’s Ligurian bee species.

As a consequence, the bees that service Peter’s 1300 hives around the island are the last remaining pure bred Ligurian bees in the world – an exclusive aspect to Island Beehive production that Peter has energetically promoted.

“Our ‘Authentic Kangaroo Island’ brand has a special power to it,” he says.

“We export about 60 tonnes of honey a year, with 40 tonnes going to Japan.

Demand far exceeds supply every year, because people know that we sell true honey. We sell everything we produce, because of our honey’s reputation for purity, and there is demand for much, much more.”

Peter says Island Beehive has the ability to expand, and will do so when conditions are right to foster more queen bees and meet escalating demand.

“We can do this without compromising our quality or integrity, because what we do is built upon the strength of our relationships with farmers and landowners, to ensure we can accurately read the flora and the seasons to ensure the best possible quality honey.”

It’s a story consistent among SA honey producers. Humbugz at Kingston SE has grown steadily from a backyard hobby for David and Frances Curkpatrick into a business with national and export sales.

They tend about 400 working hives, with each hive capable of producing about 100kg of honey annually from Italian Gold bees located within a 60km radius of their production shed.

Frances believes that conscientious producers focused on such types of localised production are now in a very advantageous position.

Humbugz Honey is made in Kingston in the state’s South East.

“SA’s honey producers now have a great opportunity to promote the purity of our honey. If we work together, we can shine on a light on a great asset that we have in this state,” says Frances.

The provenance of SA honey is also taken seriously within the local hospitality industry, with the Mayfair Hotel in Adelaide’s CBD having its own hives on the rooftop.

Executive chef Bethany Finn makes an elaborate feature of the hotel’s own honey as part of the hotel’s extensive breakfast buffet, offering a variety of flavours, and even fresh honeycomb.

The Mayfair’s honey is also featured in the hotel’s signature Honey Trap cocktail at its rooftop Hennessy Lounge.

More honey innovations in SA are set to keep the local industry moving forward.

Buzz Honey received a $50,000 State Government Advanced Manufacturing Grant in March 2017, to develop freeze-dried SA raw honey crystals with SARDI.

The project will involve constructing a humidity-controlled processing room, with the results expected to enable SA’s pure honey to be used more widely in large-scale food manufacturing.

“Honey is not just honey,” says BuzzHoney’s Annette Ferris. “It’s a highly specialised ingredient that we still have so much to learn about. For us, honey is an adventure.”

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