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Honey goes hi-tech: new tool has industry buzzing

Honey goes hi-tech: new tool has industry buzzing

With New Zealand’s annual honey exports currently valued at $300 million and growing, a new web-based honey blending tool is set to save honey distributors significant amounts of time and money.

The Honey Blending Tool, developed by a team of scientists and data analysts at Hill Laboratories, allows honey distributors with large inventories to easily blend individual honeys to form a target blend to meet specific sales and export criteria.

New Zealand produces around 15,000 – 20,000 tonnes of honey each year. Most honey bought from a supermarket is blended honey.

The Honey Blending Tool won the Roy Paterson Trophy at the Apiculture New Zealand conference in July for the most innovative idea or invention designed to benefit beekeepers.

Hill Laboratories market sector manager for food, bioanalytical and microbiology Mark Jones says in a growing industry, exported honey must meet very strict criteria set by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and overseas markets.

“Previously honey distributors could blend honey to just a few markers, such as MGO and sugar levels, but now with MPI’s tightened food safety regulations, exported honey has to meet much stricter and more complex criteria,” says Jones. “The Honey Blending Tool takes the guess work out and calculates exact honey blends to meet the criteria required.”

To use the tool, honey distributors log in to a web-based portal and enter the exact compounds and specifications they want to achieve in their blend. The app then scans through the honey drums in their inventory and specifies the optimal set of drums to make the required target blend.

A large-scale honey distributor can have more than 1000 honey drums, weighing 300kg each, on site at a time.

Jones says the tool is easy to use, highly configurable, runs off a cloud-based system and produces secure results. It has been used by a handful of Hill Laboratories clients while undergoing beta testing, and an updated version will be available for wider use in the coming months.

The Honey Blending Tool can also take into account which market the honey is destined for and makes sure the target blend meets that country’s overseas market access requirements.

“This is extremely important information to factor in for honey exports,” says Jones. “If you fail to meet the export country’s requirements, you risk not gaining access to the market and being able to sell your product there.”

Jones says New Zealand’s honey is sought after around the world, largely due to its positive “Manuka story” and the health benefits sought from using Manuka honey. He says the Honey Blending Tool is particularly useful for Manuka blends.

The potency of Manuka honey is usually measured by its Unique Manuka Factor, or UMF rating, which represents the level of the natural markers that make up Manuka honey, with a higher UMF rating indicating higher levels of natural Manuka honey markers.

“The tool ensures that when you enter the desired honey specification, including the UMF rating, you get exactly what you want,” says Jones.

“Previously, it was very easy to over specify a honey blend and ‘give away’ more value than you needed to.

“Providing the exact calculation for honey blends and their UMF rating allows honey packers to maximise the value of their honey inventory.”

Jones says the tool has had positive feedback from industry, including its recent award win at the Apiculture New Zealand conference, which he says came as a welcome surprise.

“It was great to be recognised for the hard work that’s gone on behind the scenes with the tool, and with honey being a core focus for our team we were pleased to see our efforts pay off.”

Dr Kyle Devey, research and development manager at Hill Laboratories, led the development of the tool and says he’s pleased with the end result.

“Our team worked hard on it for months and we’re really happy with how it’s come together,” he says.

“In the next few months we’ll be working on some upgrades/refinements to the tool to get it ready for wider roll out to our honey clients. It’s got a lot of potential and we’re excited to see how it goes.”

CEO Jonno Hill says the Honey Blending Tool is a reflection of Hill Laboratories’ commitment to enhancing the use of innovative technologies to benefit the primary sector.

“Innovation is one of our driving values and we have a big focus on the honey industry, so we’re really invested in seeing it succeed. It has been great to work collaboratively with our clients to shape the tool to best fit their needs and we’re excited to be rolling it out for more of our clients in the months to come.”

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About Hill Laboratories

Hill Laboratories was founded in 1984 by Dr Roger and Anne Hill, growing to become New Zealand’s largest privately owned analytical laboratory. It supplies a range of laboratory tests to domestic and international markets in the agriculture, environmental and food sectors. Hill Laboratories has sites in Hamilton, Auckland, Wellington, Blenheim and Christchurch.

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