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Honey trap

29-May-2006

Honey trap

A honey bee may be able to fly at 15 miles per hour, but this still isn't fast enough to keep up with consumption trends. Business is booming in the honey aisles, says Gail Hunt. But watch out for those red traffic lights

It is hard to think of new product development for a food product that has been produced in the same way for 150M years, but honey is having something of a renaissance at the moment and it is certainly the star performer of the jams and spreads market.

While many are bemoaning the rise in on-the-go breakfasts that prevent people sitting down to put their favourite spread on their toast first thing in the morning, honey is bucking this trend.

One reason for this is, of course, that many on-the-go breakfast products such as cereal bars often contain honey, as do cereals themselves.

According to TNS Worldpanel, UK consumers spent 4.6% more on honey in the year to February 2006 than they did in the previous year, with growth being driven by more households shopping for the category and doing so more often.

Given that honey typically has a higher sugar content than jam, why is it doing so well when other spreads are static at best and in many cases, declining - partly, we are told, because of consumer concerns about how sugary they are?

According the Honey Association, the generic body representing UK honey packers and importers, a major factor behind this continued growth is the increase in popularity of honey in squeezable bottles.

Association chairman Brian Butcher says: "Squeezable honeys are ideal for all consumers, young and old alike, as essentially they remove one of the only perceivable disadvantages of honey, its stickiness."

He adds: "The squeezies appeal to the young, and older consumers also benefit from the increased ease of use as they don't have to struggle with awkward jars." Squeezable bottles are the fastest growing sector in the market and are now used to market blended clear, speciality and organic honeys.

Honey's popularity among health-conscious consumers has further helped grow the market and boost sales. It is a pure natural product and is therefore "of the moment"

As well as being a delicious spread, it is increasingly popular for sweetening hot drinks and goes particularly well with tea, herbal teas and infusions.

Honey suits the modern breakfast: honey with yoghurt, in a smoothie drink with fruit, on porridge or cereals, and it continues to be made popular by celebrity chefs on TV.

Honey is a great source of energy and is easy for the body to digest. It also contains enzymes and antioxidants, which as well as aiding digestion are also said to combat damaging free radicals in the body.

Honey also gets great press coverage, which is not easily achieved in the current food-bashing climate. Indeed, a recent edition of the Sunday Times Style magazine recommended local honey for helping relieve some hay fever symptoms.

One of the latest developments is Manuka honey from New Zealand which has the highest antibacterial properties of all commercially available honeys. Leading UK honey brand Rowse launched Rowse Manuka Active 10+ last year and it is predicted that sales will be over £2M this year.

Rowse Honey is market leader in the UK and refines, blends and packs over 30 different varieties. To encourage new usage occasions for honey, the company is planning to give away 43g miniature jars at various events this year, which contain booklets offering recipes and explanations of all the various speciality honeys available from the company.

A key growth area for honey is premium brands and luxury speciality offerings, which Gale's is targeting. Although the use of speciality honeys is increasing, many shoppers still only buy everyday honey as they are worried about the risk of the unknown. By explaining how the honey will taste, Gale's is aiming to demystify blended speciality honey while providing consumers with the reassurance of a known brand.

According to Gale's brand owner Premier Foods, half of honey buyers still only buy everyday honey products, meaning there is significant 'trade up' potential within the category. The company estimates a potential of £3.5M growth to the honey sector by encouraging consumers to trade up to speciality honeys.

Stephen Beaty is the director responsible for the honey business at Fuerst Day Lawson (FDL), the largest importer of honey in the UK. The division's portfolio includes more than 50 honey varieties and related products from all the world's producing nations.

"Consumption is increasing as honey is deemed to be healthy and natural," he says. "We import the raw material for our customers and guarantee the quality." The company constantly audits its suppliers to ensure quality is maintained and full traceability can be assured. In fact, FDL's honey can be traced back to the individual bee keepers.

It seems that the rise in popularity of honey is set to continue with the only cloud on the horizon being the adoption by many retailers of front of pack labelling schemes, which could see the honey fixture awash with red traffic lights reflecting the products' extremely high (natural) sugar content. The industry will have a job on its hands to get over this barrier and will certainly need to harness any positive press coverage then. FM

Jam Tomorrow: as long as it's low-sugar

According to TNS Worldpanel, the jam market is in decline with premium and standard products both declining 3% in the last year. What is described as health jam, including low-sugar options, grew 12% last year, however, which meant that the whole market was down only fractionally.

Hartley's Best Jam is still top in the everyday jam category and Hartley's Reduced Sugar jam is available in six variants to appeal to the more health conscious consumer.

Premier Foods also produces the Weight Watchers jams and is the fastest growing reduced sugar brand on the market.

Although these low-sugar options are trying to encourage consumers back into the spreads market, reducing the sugar does present technical challenges.

After all, sugar aids the setting of jam, complements the fruit and has a high preservative value. That is why reduced sugar jams can be runny and have to be stored in the fridge.

Bizarrely, consumers are rejecting normal jam because of its sugar content but buying lots more honey which actually has higher sugar content. Normal jam has a total of 69g of sugar per 100g while the increasingly popular honey has a higher 76.4g of sugar per 100g.

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