2018 Annual General Meeting
When: 7 December 2018
Where: Whanganui Racecourse, Purnell Street
Registrations from 8am, meeting starts at 9am
2018 AGM Postal Voting Form (0.12MB)
Land of Opportunity proves its worth for Awhi honey.
The sweet taste of mānuka honey produced by Atihau-Whanganui Incorporation’s (Awhi’s) hives could soon be on the lips of American consumers after a successful fact-finding trip across the Pacific.
Awhi Chair Mavis Mullins, Board members Shar Amner and Tiwha Puketapu, CE Andrew Beijeman and Chris Meade from Foundational, Awhi’s strategic marketing partner, made the journey to forge connections with retailers and potential trade partners and test the product with shoppers themselves.
“We made a strategic commitment to adopt a paddock-to-plate philosophy that means we want to know who the people are that consume our products,” says Mavis. “This tightens the supply chain and enables us to offer a high-quality proposition to customers rather than churning out product in large quantities for people who remain faceless to us.
“In order to be successful in this approach we need to have a deep understanding of our potential markets and ensure we are creating meaningful relationships by telling our story in a way that resonates with these offshore consumers. These were the driving forces behind the trip.”
Currently Awhi’s mānuka honey, which rates highly for taste and quality, achieving a UMF (Unique Mānuka Factor) grading level of between 5 - 25, is sold through distributors to New Zealand’s domestic market. The high grade product is used by partners in specialist areas such as wound care and cell regeneration.
To take the product off-shore, the development team had to first identify a market that would act as an entry point. Analysis of several potential markets showed that America or China offered the best opportunities to launch Awhi’s own honey brand.
Mānuka honey already has an established presence in China’s health-conscious marketplace where consumers embrace the concept that food can be beneficial on medical grounds as well as nutritional ones. But there are already more than 100 brands in existence there and regulatory restraints could restrict the ability to grow Awhi’s market share.
America, however, offered great potential in the size and value of market available to a new product and there are fewer constraints when it comes to importation. Although the recognition of mānuka honey is relatively low, awareness of its beneficial health properties is on the rise, with the market referred to as being in an ‘early adopter stage’.
Catching the start of that rising trend was identified as a real opportunity for Awhi and so America became the focus market, with San Francisco as a starting point due to its large number of ethically-aware and open-minded consumers.
“At that point we needed to quickly develop a product concept and proposition that would appeal to a highly-educated American audience,” says Awhi’s strategic marketing partner Chris Meade, from Foundational. “When developing the core proposition behind any product, the challenge is to identify what grabs the attention of your potential customer the most. We tested three product concepts and discovered one really stood out.”
The three concepts focused on where the honey came from, its raw, unprocessed nature, and the ethical way in which it was collected in just one single harvest each year.
“It was very clear that care for bees and ethical farming practices have huge resonance with American consumers,” says Chris.
“Against a backdrop of food scares and genuine concerns around the global food system, it is vitally important for people to know how their food has been produced, how the animals have been treated and the land cared for. They want to know who the people are who are putting food into their families’ mouths and, more than that, they want to know do you share the same values as them.”
“What we have in New Zealand, rolling green pastures where our animals live, accountability along the food chain and an ingrained knowledge that we are eating good, healthy produce, is just unbelievable to many people in other countries,” says Chris. “We found that the connection Awhi has with its whenua, and their commitment to the way people, land and animals are cared for, held a great deal of significance for our target American consumers.”
The story behind Awhi Single Harvest Honey, where the ethical treatment of Awhi bees is demonstrated by collecting honey from hives only once each season, was identified as the best concept to take to consumers. The next step was to actually take it to the market, talk to retailers and consumers and see their reactions.
“Taking a product and meeting people face to face enables you to significantly increase your knowledge about viability of your strategic approach in a short period of time,” says Chris. “Remote research and facts and figures are very useful up to a point, but nothing beats actually taking your concept to the market and asking ‘Does this product appeal to you, and why?’ There’s nothing more effective than seeing a potential customer’s reaction – good or bad – with your own eyes.”
The delegation held face-to-face meetings with small-chain supermarket owners and independent retailers as well as actually venturing onto the shop floor to speak with consumers themselves. The Awhi product proposition was met with a very positive response and the team achieved some significant learning outcomes about what the next steps should be.
“We came away with a much better understanding of how the market works over there and an improved awareness of the perception people have of us and our product, as well as what people are actually looking for,” said Mavis. “We have a clear sense that we are on the right path and what our next steps need to be now.”
Since the team’s return, a retailer who represents one of the most ethically advanced stores in San Francisco has made contact, which is an exciting development.
“Although we have challenges ahead of us, particularly around proving the authenticity of our story and the credibility of our product, I am confident that we will achieve our goal to take our honey direct-to-market.” says Andrew Beijeman, CE of Awhi. “I am hoping that jars displaying our own distinct brand will be on US shelves within the next 12 months.”
The intention is to bring the honey to market in San Francisco and develop the brand’s presence there before rolling out into similar markets throughout the US, such as Los Angeles, Portland and New York.
“All the evidence is there that we are on the right path,” says Chris. “We have a great product with a great story and the right people with the right knowledge to look strategically at how we are going to make this happen. This is an exciting time for us.”
Commerce and conservation working hand in hand
The work of Ngā Whenua Rāhui is about more than just putting up fences and killing off pests. It is also about caring for Papatūānuku in a cultural and spiritual way that shows how commerce and conservation can work hand-in-hand.
Ngā Whenua Rāhui is a contestable ministerial $6 million per year fund administrated by a board led by Chairman Sir Tumu Te Heuheu.
The board considers applications for assistance in conserving and improving indigenous ecological areas owned by Māori, with 99.9% of cases involving land communally owned by family trusts or corporations.