Trend Watch: Honey

11 May 2020, 09:26 AM
  • It’s boom time for Mother Nature’s original luxury food reports Sally-Jayne Wright
Trend Watch: Honey

The Covid-19 pandemic has made consumers keen to boost immunity. High quality honey has antibacterial, prebiotic and antioxidant properties and beekeepers and suppliers report higher than usual demand.

Any other reasons honey is trending?
Heaps. Beekeeping has been popular for a decade now because of concerns about declining bee numbers. So many London businesses - including the St Ermin’s Hotel, Fortnum & Mason and the Cordon Bleu cookery school - have rooftop hives that the capital has the highest density of honey bees in Europe.

The 2018 tax on sugar in fizzy drinks made shoppers review their white sugar consumption. Some switched to honey - perceived as healthier even though it’s 80% sugar.

Then there’s the arrival of well-made honeys from Eastern Europe and further afield. It showed foodies there’s much more to it than the heat-treated, blended syrup in squeezable plastic bottles.

Over 450 honeys from 30 countries were entered into the 2020 Great Taste Awards. Trend Watch had the pleasure last year of judging a three star winner - Sidr Honey with Black Onion Seeds (Lote and Co). It transported us in one spellbinding mouthful to the souks of the Middle East.

Give me a quick honey lesson
If manufacturers remove the pollen - honey’s DNA – you can’t prove whether a product comes from Sherborne or Shanghai. Premium honeys sell for up to £60/200g so honey is the third most adulterated food after olive oil and wine. When buying, look for duration on the palate rather than honey aroma and viscosity. Crystallization is normal. Avoid blends and don’t forget quieter honeys sell as well as punchier varieties.

Who buys honey?
Four types of customer will pay a premium. They are: traditionalists, wellness fiends, adventurous gourmets and those interested in all things natural.

Tell me about the traditionalists
They favour British honeys and honeycombs from independent apiaries, with flavour profiles that remind them of childhood. Think Fortnum & Mason’s Scottish Ling Heather or Shropshire Creamed. The multifloral Cornish honey produced by local vet, Stephen Putnam, and sold at The Allotment Deli, St Ives is another example. Like countless beekeepers, Putnam makes only enough to supply a handful of shops.

How about the second group, wellness fiends?
Honey is a cough suppressant and eases sore throats. Hayfever sufferers seek out local pots in the belief they relieve symptoms. Then there’s Manuka, made from Manuka flower nectar and selling for up to £300 a kilo. It’s reputed to aid tissue regeneration so popular in skincare. It helps heal wounds, cuts, burns and infections, enhances antibiotic efficiency and boosts immunity.

What makes it so special?
All unpasteurised honeys contain hydrogen peroxide, a natural antiseptic destroyed by heat. The peroxide in Manuka is much more robust and powerful and that’s down to the presence of methylglyoxal (MGO), up to 100 times as much as ordinary honey.

I can’t get my head around all the numbers and grading systems!
If unsure, check with the Unique Manuka Factor Association of New Zealand and ask for a lab testing certificate.

Is it all a con?
Fourth generation beekeeper, James Hamill of the Hive Honey Shop online retailer – formerly the UK’s first and only bricks-and-mortar shop dedicated to honey – says, “We stopped selling Manuka in 2018 after worrying reports (of adulteration, fake Manuka and watered down versions). We do not sell or trust it to this day.”

Many British beekeepers are sceptical whether Manuka represents value for money. They point out that unlike New Zealand Manuka, our honeys haven’t received government marketing support. 

How about the third group, ‘adventurous gourmets’?
They’re interested in palate-pleasing experiences. So introduce them to: Greek Anise & Fennel Honey (Beewell), Lithuanian Buckwheat Honey (, Linden Honeys from Serbia (Milanovic-Knowles Ltd), Coriander Honeys from Bulgaria (Mellifera) and Raw Lime Blossom Honey from Hungary ( Surprise them with how ‘rural’ London honeys - such as Bermondsey Street Bees’ award-winners – can taste.

And lastly, who are those buyers drawn to all things natural?
Oxfordshire beekeeper, Julie Macken, of Neves Bees sells her honey and beeswax skincare at country fairs: “We’ve found people who like natural foods, like natural products in general.” So display beeswax wraps, honey soaps and lip balms alongside the edibles.

How can we make the most of the trend?
Give customers the feel-good factor and stock honeys where a few pence per sale go to support dwindling bee populations. Promote honey and honeycombs as the ideal accompaniment to cheeseboards. Thyme and orange blossom go with Ricotta, goat and feta, while chestnut and buckwheat honeys complement nutty heddar and comte. Milder honeys point up the fieriness of blue cheese.

Will the trend last?
If we were to design the ideal product for fine food retailers, honey would be it. It has long shelf life, tastes amazing with cheese therefore creating opportunities to cross-sell, has an astonishing range of flavour profiles and appeals to a wide range of buyers. Most important, artisan beekeepers will never produce enough to supply the supermarkets so for once the multiples can’t copy and undercut you. Sweet.

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