Pure Manuka Honey, the company behind the ‘ultra-premium’ Three Peaks brand, has created not just a new product category, but a solid sales strategy into China.
It’s well known that the Chinese are among the world’s most health conscious consumers.
This is reflected in China’s insatiable demand for health food – estimated to be worth a hearty US$29 billion per year.
According to Chinaskinny.com, Chinese consumers are also trading up to healthier versions of traditional foodstuffs. More than 30 percent are prepared to pay a premium for better quality and typically healthier food items such as dairy, meat and seafood.
Honey, more specifically Manuka honey with its medicinal properties, is one of the products leading this health drive – representing a massive opportunity for New Zealand’s producers.
Despite Australian claims to the contrary, Manuka honey is a uniquely New Zealand product and brand. The UMF® (Unique Manuka Factor) on each jar relates to the proportion of unique signature compounds found within genuine Manuka honey – leptosperin, dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and methlglyoxal (MGO).
This medicinal trilogy helps make up the UMF, which has become the internationally recognised quality mark guaranteeing authenticity and a global standard in identifying and measuring the highly prized, distinctive characteristics of Manuka honey. The UMF scale typically ranges from 4+ to 24+.
New Zealand’s total honey exports are currently worth $242 million per year – of which Manuka makes up around 80 percent. The government’s target is to reach $1.2 billion by 2028.
However, reaching such dizzy export targets is not possible just by increasing production and adding more ‘me too’ commodity-level Manuka honey to the plethora of plastic jars that are already out there. Besides, for that to happen the honey bees need to be at their productive best – and lately that’s been a serious issue.
The key, according to Pure Manuka Honey, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Perry International Trading Group, is to stay away from that price-driven supermarket end of the market and create a whole new category of ‘ultra-premium’ Manuka honey, primarily targeting China’s corporate gifting market.
That’s exactly what the company is doing under its distinctive Three Peaks® brand, launched in September 2016.
Three Peaks refers to Mount Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe in the Tongariro National Park. The remote, rugged and intrinsically pure central North Island plateau and South Waikato region is where Three Peaks harvests its Manuka honey and manages its sustainable apiary model.
The Perry family is on a mission to buy farms and regenerate them back to native bush, securing high-yielding Manuka honey production and contributing to sustainable land management. This provides a complete land-to-brand offering for Three Peaks. They currently have around 1400 hectares under their control.
“Our operation is broader than looking after the land for the bees’ sake,” explains Peter Botting, CEO of Perry International Trading Group. “For us productivity comes through a better eco-system, encouraging indigenous species (including kiwis), tree regeneration, and eliminating pests,” he says. “It’s all about being responsible custodians.”
So what exactly does ‘ultra-premium’ mean in a market that has long been defined by just ‘premium’ products?
Botting answers that question with a sample of Three Peaks 20+UMF honey in a distinctively tapered glass Tongariro Jar® - designed in New Zealand and shaped to represent a mountain and the environment from which its contents are sourced.
I can see it would make a stunning gift.
“We set out to produce this beautiful, valuable product to the highest standard we possibly can. Then we present it to the market in a format that reflects the Three Peaks values.”
Botting then produces a complete presentation gift-box. Its luxury packaging and attention to detail – explaining the Three Peaks ‘story’ – instantly confirms the potential, and brilliance, of the brand’s ultra-premium marketing strategy. As well as the wisdom in choosing not to participate in the lower value chain.
“We set out to produce this beautiful, valuable product to the highest standard we possibly can. Then we present it to the market in a format that reflects the Three Peaks values,” he says. “Authenticity and quality are our highest priority.”
It may be an expensive road to navigate in terms of production, and requires both willpower and financial fortitude but the rewards are well worth it, Botting adds. Three Peaks has been well received by tourists at New Zealand’s high-end retailers and luxury hotels, as well as in China and Japan’s luxury consumer market.
“Overseas customers conduct their own ‘country of origin’ research to satisfy themselves that you’re a trusted brand in your own country,” he says.
It’s about export
Securing their first substantial export order to tap into China’s gifting channels was a major milestone for the Three Peaks brand.
“In China corporate and personal gifting are two very strong themes that are cyclical through the year. While the authorities there have clamped down on certain luxury gift items such as champagne, Manuka honey fits beautifully with the wellness story. It also works extremely well with the categorisation of the UMF hierarchy,” explains Botting.
So the more important the recipient, the higher the UMF in the gifted honey.
The UMF grading system is fast becoming accepted across borders. Every batch of Three Peaks product is certified by the UMF Honey Association to be authentic and true to the UMF label value, he adds. “Which requires all our honey to be independently tested by Analytica Laboratories.”
Going forward, Three Peaks is also targeting Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and ultimately the US.
In China it has a business unit operated by Chinese nationals out of Beijing, and Botting believes, although expensive, it’s key to the brand’s export strategy: an offline distribution model utilising a specialist master in-market distributor, while maintaining tight control over the online (e-commerce) rights.
It’s no secret that there has been a slowdown in sales across the Manuka honey sector in recent times – caused primarily by Chinese authorities toughening up food import regulations in an effort to boost quality, and applying taxes to the ‘daigou’ channel, which operates in the grey market (essentially Chinese based in New Zealand buying small amounts of wholesale product and sending it via post to China consumers).
While acknowledging that the Three Peaks brand, like all products in New Zealand, relies on daigou operators to boost sales, Botting firmly believes his brand’s distribution strategy is rock solid. Three Peaks takes advantage of China’s Free Trade Zones to trade through the country’s popular e-commerce platforms.
“It’s easy to control and doesn’t require us to be a wholly foreign-owned enterprise (WFOE) in China’s domestic market,” he says. “We control the supply-chain and delivery to the customer, as well as the pricing model on the e-commerce platforms.”
Going forward, the brand’s China strategy includes partnering with a leading media entertainment company to bring Chinese celebrities to New Zealand to help launch and distribute a specific ‘single-use’ product into mainland China. The celebrities will enjoy New Zealand’s attractions, tour Tongariro National Park, be educated on the Manuka honey industry, and broadcast live to their followers on social media.
“So not only are we redefining packaging and the way Manuka honey is positioned and presented to the market, we’re seeking to reinvent the old models of export,” says Botting.
“Our biggest challenge is to create a stable heritage brand and move fast enough to keep up [with the market].
Some early advice
• Do your homework; then take your export strategy to NZTE to see if they can help you in any way, particularly around research. Remember they have an office in Shanghai. Rely on them to help open doors but not to bring you the business.
• Map out your supply chain steps right from the goods leaving these shores through to the end consumer. Consider all channels – retail, offline, e-commerce, and so on – as well as regulations at every touch-point; who you’re placing your trust in; temperature control, auditing, and is your in-market partner looking after your interests? “Have it all fully mapped out and understood before you try and find people. And keep it updated.”
• Tmall requires that your brand be within the China market for two years before they’ll accept it on their platform. However, Tmall Global is the cross-border transactional pathway to the Free Trade Zones for Tmall.
• Understand what part of the market you’re operating in. How does your export strategy align with what’s going on out there? “Certainly don’t rely on what’s reported in the media, because it could just be based on second-hand information. Cut through the hype. Go to the source and work it out for yourself.”