Business Day, 2/10/2014
If manuka honey is liquid gold, Masterton-based Watson & Son is looking for the mother lode.
"The goal is a bold one. Moving into the international wound-care market, 1000 tonnes [of honey a year] isn't going to cut it - the goal will be 100,000 tonnes," Watson & Son chief executive Warren Peat said.
The company's honey currently retails for $15-$65 a 250g pottle and will fetch much more if, as expected, it is registered as an approved medical product; so 100,000 tonnes quickly takes on bonanza dimensions.
The company has boomed since its establishment in 2004, winning the Deloitte/Unlimited Fast 50 award in 2008 for fastest growing business. Wellington-born Denis Watson owns the operation with his son and apiary manager Dan. They employ 85 staff throughout the North Island, rising to about 115 in high season.
As a member of the New Zealand Manuka Honey Exporters Collective, the anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of the company's manuka honey are rated on a 25-point scale. On-site technicians test for chemical identifiers known as DHA and MGO to prove the honey comes from manuka. The higher the rating, the higher its value.
But as the bees would actually rather get their honey from anything but manuka, whose small flowers and thick, sticky honey are hard work, the only way to guarantee a premium harvest is to "soak" them in manuka-- giving them no option.
They can fly only 2km from their hives, so for the October to March harvest season the firm trucks or even helicopters its 20,000 hives around the North Island to the thickest stands of flowering manuka it can lease.
Then the bees are collected at night and trucked around an annual loop from Northland via East Cape and Wairarapa to Wanganui, Taranaki and the volcanic plateau, with each area having a distinct, six-week flowering period…