Historic: A nice description of the market for honey, late 1940s...

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As the second World War drew to a close, New Zealand beekeepers looked forward to things ‘returning to normal’, at least for the marketing of NZ’s honey crops.

Wartime had been challenging, with an increasing presence of governmental control and regulation. Beekeepers were, for the most part, willing to comply with the conditions and necessities of wartime requirements, but were keen to having the industry managed by something other than emergency regulations.

The Internal Marketing Division (IMD) had been supplied on a voluntary basis initially, but ultimately was calling for commandeering up to 70% of a beekeeper’s crop.

Beekeepers were not happy… They felt that even in the years of compulsory acquisition, the IMD did not service the ‘emergency’ markets as it had planned. Honey for overseas service personnel and to help to supply war-ravaged Europe did not ever seem to be delivered to match the assurances of the ‘need’ from the IMD.

‘Wilf’ Lennon made a clear argument for returning to a voluntary supply to the IMD, at a time when the overall industry marketing situation could be pretty well described in a few paragraphs. (Lennon was a commercial beekeeper from Omakau, Central Otago, the Editor of the NZ Beekeeper magazine, and the NBA Vice President!)

In round numbers, Lennon said, New Zealand will produce about 3,000 tons of honey in an average season. And the IMD figured that they would need to be supplied with about 1,000 tons as a minimum requirement to keep depots and packing economic.

The IMD approach was to commandeer - if beekeepers were required to supply 70% of their crop, then the supply would be certain (if beekeepers would supply - that is another question!)

Lennon’s take on the honey market was that of the 3,000 tons of honey, beekeepers could readily dispose of 1,000 tons through door sales. Remember, it was a different time… And they could dispose of another 1,000 tons in local/nearby sales, either by themselves being a packer, or by them selling to a packer.

The first sales - at the door - would have been the most profitable channel for beekeepers, given the times and the situation. The latter sales - either packing or selling to a packer - were still profitable, even though they had to have a Seal’s Levy stamp attached to them. That is, any container being sold through shops had a 1/2 d per pound levy - and thus could act as a means of ensuring an adequate return on the last 1,000 tons of the annual honey crop that needed to be exported (the export price was less than the local price!).

Lennon’s take was that the third 1,000 tons of the crop, the part that a beekeeper could not sell profitably, would be what the beekeeper would want to supply to the IMD voluntarily. By requiring up to 70% of the crop the IMD would be leaving the beekeeper with door sales - but requiring them to supply the rest of their honey to the IMD. Who would then incur higher costs to package the honey and transport it back to sell in those same local shops that had been supplied by the local beekeeper/packer! And which would then not be contributing any Seals Levy!

Remember - if that local market was supplied by a beekeeper/packer, it would be contributing by way of the Seal’s Levy. Beekeepers knew that they had to find something to do with that last third of the crop - export, carry over for a lean year, advertise to increase consumption - and that sort of activity was best done by some form of central marketing organisation like the IMD.

I’ve always appreciated Lennon’s description of the market as being simple enough to understand, and yet still enough to appropriately describe the complex situation.

As it turned out, the IMD (and government) capitulated and did not require the compulsory supply, and left beekeepers to ensure that they did supply enough the keep the IMD economic.

It was a number of years after that before the Honey Marketing Authority was formed. In between there were all sorts of arguments about who should vote in an election for such as the HMA.

Suppliers to the IMD (then to the HMA) were an obvious stakeholder. But it was long argued that the whole industry was part of the NZ marketing of honey, even those who chose to sell locally or to a packer. Their contribution, by way of paying the Seal’s Levy, meant that they, too, had a role in the overall approach to honey marketing.

Then? 30 years of the HMA, and when it was dissolved - a choice of the industry overall - its assets were ultimately to form the Honey Industry Trusts, and continue to provide value to the greater beekeeping industry!