Customer stories

How Midlands Apiaries capitalised on a clear market opportunity

Ashburton company Midlands Seed was looking for a way to pollinate its carrot crop at very specific times. What they decided to do changed the course of their business.

Reading time: 3-4 minutes

The seed of an idea

With a reputation for quality and innovation, Midlands is a leading producer and exporter of food ingredients. Although its base is in Canterbury, New Zealand, and Tasmania, Australia, the Ashburton company operates on a global scale, investing in significant research and development to ensure it maximises the quality of its products. 

Pollination is a key factor in Midlands’ ability to grow quality crops. Ten years ago, the company began to look 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 Apiaries

Craig Atkinson, Midlands Apiaries General Manager, talks about how an idea for pollination led to an opportunity in a growing market.

Seizing the opportunity

Midlands Apiaries was launched, with their sights set on what Craig calls the “backbone” of the honey industry: mānuka honey. Rather than simply sell the honey their hives were producing, management quickly saw a much bigger opportunity in mānuka, whose global popularity was skyrocketing. 

"There was a huge and growing interest in mānuka and we were well positioned to capture that globally," says Craig.

The company began buying mānuka honey and invested in infrastructure, building a state-of-the-art extracting, processing and packaging plant as well as an in-house lab. This was not without its (calculated) risks.

"There was a degree of entrepreneurship in terms of the size of the investment the company made, and anticipation that demand for mānuka globally would continue. This investment has paid off." 

By thinking outside the box, Midlands could tap into another avenue of growth potential. 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." 

The company’s investment in mānuka has sustainability benefits, too. According to Midlands Apiaries website, planting helps to ‘rejuvenate New Zealand’s natural flora (and) helps with the reduction of greenhouse gases’ – showing that business growth doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment.

The continual growth of Midlands Apiaries

From 1990, when the first seed was planted, to a world-leading, multifaceted business operating on a global scale: Midlands has gone from strength to strength. Its retail brands came away with a combined 10 medals at the 2022 London International Honey Awards, making them the most awarded honey producer in New Zealand. But despite the size of the business and its significant recent growth, Craig says they’re just getting started.

"What I love about this industry is the opportunity. There are a number of large markets yet to discover the benefits of mānuka so the global market is untapped at this point."

The company is also working on a number of non-mānuka initiatives, including the development of a range of flavoured honeys. While mānuka remains the gold standard thanks to its potential health benefits, Midlands are enthusiastic about promoting other honey types, such as the complex-flavoured kamahi which is Craig’s personal favourite.

Today Midlands Apiaries buys 80% of its honey from beekeepers around New Zealand, from Kaitaia to Southland. Of the honey it buys each month, 80% of it is mānuka. The factory just outside Ashburton processes around two thousand tonnes of honey each year (at full capacity, they have the ability to produce over four thousand), with 90% of it destined for overseas markets. That makes them the fourth largest honey exporter in New Zealand – but Craig is confident it won’t be long before they’re in the top three.

"We have fantastic staff and facilities so we have every opportunity to achieve that goal."

ANZ has been fantastic. They backed us and had faith in what we were doing – Craig Atkinson

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