Ten years ago Ashburton company Midlands Seeds was looking for a way to pollinate its carrot crop at very specific times. Rather than rely on someone else’s bee population, it decided to buy its own, investing in an existing Beekeeping business.
"We quickly grew the hive numbers to seven thousand and realised we needed to do something with the honey that we were creating," says Midlands Apiaries General Manager Craig Atkinson.
Midlands Aipiaries was launched and rather than just sell the honey their hives were producing, management quickly saw a much bigger opportunity.
"There was a huge and growing interest in manuka and we were well positioned to capture that globally."
The company began buying manuka honey and invested in infrastructure, building a state of the art extracting, processing and packaging plant as well as an in house lab.
"There was a degree of entrepreneurship in terms of the size of the investment the company made, and anticipation that demand for manuka globally would continue. This investment has paid off." says Craig.
The support of the bank was crucial over this time.
"ANZ has been fantastic. We had a rapid expansion which required borrowing from the bank. They backed us and had faith in what we were doing," Craig says.—
Today Midlands Apiairies buys 80% of its honey from beekeepers around NZ, from Kaitaia to Southland. Of the honey it buys each month, 80% of it is manuka. The factory just outside Ashburton processes around two thousand tonnes of honey each year, with 90% of it destined for overseas markets.
Despite the size of the business and the recent growth, Craig says it’s only just the beginning.
"What I love about this industry is the opportunity. There are a number of large markets yet to discover the benfits of manuka so the global market is untapped at this point."
The company is also working on a number of ‘non manuka’ initiatives, including developing a range of flavoured honeys and promoting other honey types like Kamahi, Craig’s personal favourite.
Today Midlands is the fourth largest honey exporter in NZ, but Craig is confident it won’t be long before they are in the top three.
"We have fanstastic staff and facilities so we have every opportunity to acheive that goal."