Even the exquisitely designed bee motif, embossed in gold on Mana Kai Honey’s business card has been created with precise attention to detail. Using Māori symbolism, it represents the company’s business and personal values where all staff are actively included in Mana Kai’s new era of the honey industry.

Derived from the Māori words mana (prestige) and kai (food), Mana Kai Honey is a beekeeping, pollination, extraction and sales/distribution business set up and operated by partners Sera Grubb and Bobby Leef. It’s hard to miss the headquarters of the operation. The striking black and yellow art deco building stands out on the state highway at Awanui, the small Northland town just north of Kaitaia.

Bees around the queen

A few years ago, when the manuka honey industry really started to ramp up, an opportunity to process honey for small-time beekeepers became apparent, and from relatively humble beginnings production has increased to around 220 tonnes, with hopes that it will go higher – the company’s got a figure of 500 tonnes in mind.

The primary focus of the factory is as a service provider, with the extraction operation set up to service beekeepers. Honey is weighed on arrival and after extraction, with customers given a detailed report of the process. The plant services 30 local beekeepers at present, and it’s intended to build a new medical-grade extraction facility as part of the plan to increase the business’s service capacity. Sera and Bobby feel that there’s not enough recognition of the healing properties of this versatile natural product, and that the immense beneficial properties of the product are being commercialised to the extent that it’s being marketed at supermarket level, when there should be thorough trials and investigations to ensure that it’s sold and used in ways that will be in the best interests of mankind based on proper scientific analysis. They cite wound dressings as an example of appropriate use.

Inspecting the hives

“The great thing is that most of the manuka we source is near rural Māori communities,” says Bobby, who grew up in Panguru in the Hokianga. “Without doing a thing, land that was previously considered to be under-utilised or dormant has suddenly become productive and can earn its owners an income. In small isolated rural communities, there’s now a positive spin-off for a lot of people.”

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