Arataki Honey – Alan Berry

Jim Newbigin: This is a Landmark meeting at the [Hastings] Public Library on 11th April 2017. The speaker is Alan Berry, talking about honey; Alan Berry is from the Arataki Honey House in Havelock North.

Joyce Barry: Thank you for coming tonight. It is a great pleasure to introduce Alan Berry tonight, and all his sweetness over here which he is going to describe to you now.

Alan’s background: comes from a farm west of Eketahuna, but his father started his first hive there but I think he got blown and washed off the hills, so in 1941 – wartime – [he] decided to probably stay in bees and come through to the Hawke’s Bay. So Alan came through and went to Mahora School for a couple of years, and then his father bought the property [coughing] in 1944 in Arataki, and as you know it’s still there. He went on to Havelock Primary and then Hastings High School, which in those days was young gentlemen and young ladies all mixed in together. Then he worked on and off with his father’s firm and was picked up by the accountant there to carry on with accountancy. So he did that, and that was roughly about ten years after he first came up here he got into accountancy properly, and worked in Ingram …

Alan: Ingram, Thompson & Berry.

That’s right, the first one; and then that was taken over by Dean Robertson. So – I think you’re semi-retired, Alan?

Alan: I’m working only thirty hours a week, so I reckon I must be semi-retired.

He’s a great sportsman. He says he plays sports very badly – that were his words. But he has had a great love of tramping, and orienteering, and solo mountain running, and that is admirable.

Alan: We enjoy doing it.

So he lives in the Havelock hills; looks out over where the bees fly no doubt, with his lovely partner, Raewyn, and a dog. So I have great joy in introducing Alan. Thank you.


Alan: Thank you indeed, Joyce. It really is a great pleasure to be with a group such as we have around us this evening, because when we look back at Hawke’s Bay there is a lot of history to be gathered together, examined and recorded, and it’s great to be with a group of people who see a value in keeping the Hawke’s Bay commercial history as well as all the other history. And it’s certainly very much to the credit of Landmarks and the Knowledge Bank that you are making the effort – we’re all making the effort – to gather and assemble and record the history for posterity. So that’s all great. But I would just warn you actually, because on looking around the audience I see a fair bit of history out here. [Chuckles] Apart from lots of people I know – two of my school mates over there, Derek Burns and Ian Grover; Jim Newbigin played squash a lot better than I did, I played squash badly along with all those other things I did badly; but a lot of people here I’ve met of course, in the course of many, many years of getting around Hastings.

But I will warn you that a little while ago I spoke to an unnamed … and I won’t tell you the specifics … lunchtime group. And I spoke on a subject that was totally unrelated to what I’m talking about tonight, but it was a singular failure. It really was, because a third of the audience couldn’t hear [chuckles] and a third of them couldn’t see, and the other third went to sleep. [Laughter] So it was really, really a dismal failure; but I’ll really, really try hard to do better tonight.

The logo up here says that Arataki started in 1944, and that is the time when we moved to Arataki Road in Havelock North, but indeed, it started a lot further back than that. What I hope to do is to just take you through the origins of the business; subsequently the company; then through its development phases, which were very rapid in the fifties and sixties; and a little bit about where we are today and where the industry might be going.

But the story of Arataki Honey is the story of one man and his family. [Shows slides throughout]

That is my father, Percy Berry. He was the originator of this business, and the driving force during the many years of its expansion until he died on the way to work at age eighty-four, twenty years ago. We always thought it was a nice way to go, really, because he walked to work in the morning, as I say, at eighty-four, complete with hat and tie as one did in those days; got to the office in the house at Arataki, sat down on the lawn, and died. So we thought that was a nice way to go for a person who had a lifetime of business, and a very long period of living in Arataki Road and enjoying the company in Havelock North. And politics; yes, he was a very political animal, which we’ll come to. [Chuckles]

We got to Havelock North in 1944; this was his business card a wee bit later. You see the phone numbers and those sorts of things that are there, indicating that they are back a wee time now; the days when we had telegrams, even, addressed to ‘Arabee’, and a teleprinter that clanged away all day. But my father built a platform upon which my two brothers, really, have developed the company. My brother, Ian, is eighty-five. He is in charge of the Havelock North division of the company, because it’s broken into two independent sectors. And my younger brother, Russell, who is seventy-five – he is in charge of the Rotorua division. No-one ever retires in our family, so I’m only in between those two. But the families we’re now working with are fourth generation, and they’re working within the Arataki complex.

But going back to where it all started, [cough] it was a long while earlier than 1944. This was taken in the 1930s, and that little hill and the house on top is Nireaha, which is six miles west of Eketahuna, where it rains and blows all the time, blowing off the Tararuas. The house was built by my father’s grandfather, who was a builder, and the trees were logged and sawn on the farm. So those hives there were the earliest hives my father developed in the later 1930s.

Going back to when he first became involved in beekeeping – he was born in 1908 and he lived on this little farm here – two hundred acres, thirty-five cows, a few sheep; Mum, Dad and five kids – pretty hard to make a living. So my father went to Nelson College spasmodically; when the cows were dry, when there was no other work to be done, he was able to go to the college, then he came back and worked in [on] the farm; or he worked in the bush – in the 40-Mile Bush just north of Mt Bruce. In those days, the bush was being felled; sacrilege to Raewyn, and a lot of people here now, but the bush was being felled and cleared for farming. And it was all done by axe – anything that was under an axe-handle length was felled by axe, but they didn’t use saws. Anything that was beyond an axe-handle length, they left standing. And that is why – those who can think back to the days of about forty years ago – Puketiritiri, Wairarapa, all over, was covered with standing, dead trees. And those were the larger trees that were too big to fell, and they were burned right through; the trees died, and eventually about thirty, forty years ago they finally disappeared and became compost for the soil around them. But that was what he did to help to put a little bit of money into the family coffers.

But back in 1925 when he was seventeen, a neighbouring beekeeper said to my father, “Look, I’ve got a swarm in the trees over there. Would you like to pick the swarm up?” So my father said, “Oh, okay”, he was up to that. He took a box, got the swarm, brought it home, and from that developed this group of hives. And they all went out and multiplied until now the company has about twenty-four thousand hives in Hawke’s Bay, in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, and also about four thousand five hundred hives in Gore – they have a branch down there which is in an entirely different geographic area, different sorts of honey; and it’s been a very useful addition to the company’s product.

I had a bit of a look on Mr Wikipedia, and it said that today, A D Honey Farm in South Dakota with eighty thousand beehives, and the Scandia honey company in Alberta with fifteen thousand beehives, are among the world’s largest beekeeping enterprises. Now, Arataki was for many years the largest in the southern hemisphere; we knew that, but it’s quite probable that [with] twenty-four thousand hives they are still up there somewhere.

Back in 1941, my father decided the family would move to Hawke’s Bay, because bees like sunshine, and sunshine and the Wairarapa don’t go together. So we upped sticks – the whole lot; the bees, the family; leased out the farm and moved to Fitzroy Avenue, just next door to the Whitworths, and Stirlings and the rest of them – the Tweedies – and all the families we know about of Hastings. My father needed to build up his beehive stocks; he only had perhaps forty or fifty hives at that stage, so he had to find a way of earning something in the meantime. He went to work for Alec Kirkpatrick at the Tomoana Works in the pay department. And Alec Kirkpatrick was a difficult, tyrannical person with whom my father had lots of arguments on ethical and all sorts of other issues. [Chuckles] But while he was at Tomoana he helped him with Dads’ Army of course, digging holes in the beach at Awatoto to fend off the Japanese and all that sort of stuff. But then between times as well, he set about building his hives to a viable commercial unit. Now, in those days – 1930s and 1940s – resources were short. And one of the things though that was plentiful was petrol cases. We came to know them as kerosene cases, but in fact they were full of petrol in the 1930s because there weren’t many petrol pumps and everyone bought their petrol in a case that had two four-gallon tins in it. And those boxes, when you laid them on their side and took the top off and put it on the other side, made a bee box. They were the perfect fit for bee frames, and from that those hives were developed; and a lot of other hives that I can remember as being still in existence forty years ago. They just kept on coming.

When we came to Hastings, my father took a rental of the property in Karamu Road, Gordon, [speaking to Gordon Vogtherr] across the road from your place. Holly Bacon Company was just past the Public Trust, and we had this rickety old two-storey building across the road where Don Stewart’s business is now. And in there we had a workshop and a storage area, and we extracted the honey into a little gauze-caged house behind the house in Fitzroy Avenue. So from that he was able to build up beehives like these. His policy was that for every three he built, he would sell one to other beekeepers or whoever wanted a hive, and the proceeds from the one were sufficient to pay for the two which he kept. And this went on until he had developed enough hives to make it a viable commercial proposition.

We always worked … I can’t remember never working … but we all worked in the beekeeping business, and we had hives scattered around on Tom Ryan’s place – some of you will remember Tom Ryan; and the Goodricks out at Lawn Road; we had hives on the Ormonds’ in Oak Avenue. And my father gave Ian and I each one hive at Ormonds’. So I was seven then, and that was okay in 1942. Ian had more vision than I had, and he said, “Well, if I’ve got one hive; if I can buy my brother’s hive I’ll have the substance of a business”, you see. [Chuckles] So seeing that I got it for nothing and Ian offered me a £1 for it, I thought, ‘Well, that’s fairly blimmin’ good!’ So I sold him my hive for £1; and that’s why I’m an accountant and he’s the … [lChuckles] And if I’d kept my £1 it’d probably be worth a £1million plus at the present time. But that’s the decisions you make, and you live by them. That’s fine, so I ended up in accounting and he’s the beekeeper.

I’ve got a few images here; they’re points of particular interest I think you might like to have a look at.

Now, Gordon might have been involved in this too, but this is a message from the Marketing Division of the Internal Affairs Department, commandeering a portion of the beekeeper’s production. There were heaps of these emergency regulations around. Here it is: ‘The Honey Emergency Regulations, 1944’. Everything’s on the internet somewhere. But as it says there, that the beekeepers of the day were required to sell part of their production to the government to go to the Armed Forces overseas; but it was paid for. This is an indication of what life was like in those days – everything was controlled, and we were required to sell part of our production to the government.

And in 1944, ‘cause we then moved out to Havelock [North] … Dad thought he had enough hives, and you can see his number there. He had a hundred and thirty-one hives. He moved out to Arataki Road, bought the property which was the old orchard research station in Arataki Road, before it went to Goddard’s Lane, and before it went to Crosses Road. They were trying to see whether apples would grow, and the answer was no, they wouldn’t. Arataki Road is pan or red metal, and nothing grew there.

Anyway, the property came on the market later and my father bought it. Then my brother Ian came along; he joined the business after he left school, and here he is demonstrating at a Field Day the drafting and raising of queen bees. What happens here – the larvae are put into a little wax cup; the bees extend it and create a queen cell, the bees look after it and those queen cells are then the foundation of a new hive.

But Ian and Dad set off into beekeeping right at the wrong time. In 1946 a bee disease came through, and because of their inexperience in part it wiped out a lot of the hives. That was followed by droughts – ‘46, ‘47, ‘48 there was a very dry period. A lot of droughts; an extended drought in Hawke’s Bay. And also, the beekeepers – as they do now – used to put their bees into orchards all round Hawke’s Bay. It was seen originally as a place to put your hives to get a lot of honey, but in fact that was marginal. What happened in 1946 was that the orchardists sprayed their apples with lead arsenic while the trees were still in flower. Whether it was something that [was] the vagaries of the season where the flowers were spasmodic and didn’t all drop off at the right time; but what happened was of course it wiped all the bees in the orchards – it killed them totally off.

So there some pretty hard times around then, and that also signalled the start of my father’s political career in the industry. He was pretty argumentative, and he lobbied hard with the support of all the other beekeepers around Hawke’s Bay. He lobbied for a law that would forbid orchardists to spray their apples or their pears while there were still flowers on the trees. Nothing happened much; he stirred up Ted Cullen, who was the local MP [Member of Parliament] at the time; and just before the next season came along the beekeepers took a truckload of bees and parked them outside the Herald Tribune, just to demonstrate that they were on their way out. They then said that, “Not only will we take our bees out, we will poison all other bees that are around the orchard area, and therefore the orchards will not be pollinated unless you change the law.” So, a couple of days before the season started, they changed the law, and now you see on the back of a truck – I saw one on the back of Alistair Shaw’s truck the other day – ‘Bee Aware’ – you know, don’t spray while there’s still blossom on the trees. That’s the residue of that particular legislation.

Now, these are just little snippets, these ones … things that I found of interest. [Shows more slides]

That’s a Nash car; now it was something that we did in those days. They converted cars into trucks and that one was converted by Ross Dysart & McLean. And Ross Dysart & McLean were right here … right here on the corner. So that truck was converted from a car right here where the library is, and it gave a good service. But things were pretty difficult of course, and Ian went off and worked for Dudley Fickling, who worked for John’s father up the road doing a bit of orchard work, just [to] try and bring some pennies into the household coffers. And as things gradually developed, the business started to gather momentum. We were buying … at that stage most of our bee keeping equipment was bought from Alliance Bee Supplies through Arthur Simmonds & Company – [they] had a business here around the corner opposite Richard Jones’s place. And Simmonds & Co were [was] a wonderful firm, and Len Bissell was managing it at the time. He talked to my father and said, “How much money do you want?” My father said, “£500”; so Simmonds & Company guaranteed an overdraft at the bank for £500 so that Arataki Honey could get going. We didn’t have the money to provide the beekeeping equipment to get things developed.

We went across the road – Ian and the rest of the family – we went across the road. We had eight acres there and we planted broad beans and lettuces and all sorts of stuff and we sold them all over and paid the money to Simmonds. And I used to pick violets from the garden and sell them at threepence a bunch through Simmonds, and that went to the credit of the company’s account. Oh dear! The things we do.

But with the assistance of Simmonds and the way things were at the time, the business started to gather momentum. What happened after the war was quite a number of the rehab [rehabilitation] beekeepers were set up too small. They were not viable enterprises, with the result that a lot of beekeepers got into difficulties. Prices were low, seasons were poor, so you either had to get out or do the other thing; and my father decided he would stick his neck out and buy up the businesses of those who wanted to get out. He did it on the basis that: “I can’t pay you now, I haven’t any cash; but I will pay you over five years. I’ll give you some of the honey that will be produced from the bees that you’re selling to us, or I will buy the honey back from you and pay you in cash.” And he bought up thousands of hives on that basis, and no one was ever disappointed. In almost every case we paid cash rather than hand them over honey. We bought the honey back from them at the going market rate and paid them in cash. We bought up hives from the Wairarapa, the Manawatu, down the coast here, and in more recent times, in the sixties, the Waikato area, and that is a separate but associated story.

But in those days we needed more places to put the hives. So we went to Tutira. There’s the two of them there, my father and my brother. Russell Orr’s photo, I think; one or two of you might remember Russell Orr. And there’s brother Ian; he is picking the larvae out of that bee frame and putting it into a little wax cup which you’ll see he’s got it on a stick there. And then they go into the hive; the hive rears the queen as I said, and the queens go into those queen cages – miles of them stacked behind. And they are the cages which you put into the hive to regenerate the hive. When the queen is ready it comes out and the old queen disappears or is knocked off, and that replaces the hive.

But we wanted to go to Tutira. In those days of course, Tutira was wall-to-wall manuka. Tutira went through the phase where they cleared the manuka and put cows on the country. After twenty years the farmers got tired of getting up early in the morning so they went into sheep. Another twenty or forty years later, quite a few of the farmers have gone back into cows again. But anyway, manuka was the name of the game in Tutira, but no-one wanted to buy manuka honey. It was dark; it was you know, strong-flavoured; all those things … “We want lovely white, clover honey.” Yeah. How things have changed!

Anyway, to keep the cost of running Walter … the old Nash truck … down, we fashioned this machine. This is a 1930 Morris Commercial. No windows on the side, just half-doors, you know; the petrol tank is just outside the front windscreen, and gravity feeds down there provided you don’t go up too steep a hill. Anyway, we built that and we took it to Tutira. There’s my father and my brother Ian up the top there. Inside it there’s a honey extractor which you’ll see better from this one [slide] – the honey extractor and an old Lister milking machine. Mind you, I think … BANG! Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-bang, then BANG again, you know. One of the old slow-revving ones. So we used to extract the honey on the site up in Tutira.

So we did all that, and we set about buying up all these other units.

Then we decided we’ve got to sell the stuff, having got it. So I came home from my start in accounting; I went home for two or three years in the early 1950s and set about selling. I was on the admin [administration] and sales side, not on the beekeeping side.

Now, some of these names may be familiar, too. These are little cards that represent the orders we received from these grocers, and they’re to be delivered. The top one is Robinson’s Cash Store; you know, a very big business, the corner of Riverslea Road and St Aubyn Street. Charlie Robinson was a big grocer. Grainger’s, a kiwi store in Frederick Street up by Mahora School. They had put in an order for six dozen ones and two dozen twos … whatever it was … and we used to deliver those. And I used to drive the old truck, an old Bedford K, from Gisborne, to the Wairarapa, Wellington, New Plymouth – all over. And I did that for several years and then went back into accounting in 1956.

During the war the honey was commandeered by the government and the rest of the crop went to retailers. Beyond the wartime, though, the sale of honey and ‘specially exports, was very much restricted. They were controlled; everything was controlled in those days. No-one was allowed to export honey; couldn’t export independently. There was a sole agent in England who took all the honey from New Zealand. The Honey Marketing Authority was like the Apple and Pear Board. You had to sell your honey to the Honey Marketing Authority who sold it to the sole agent in England, and the beekeeper got very little at the bottom end of the food chain. My father, being a bit grumpy about that, thought, ‘I’ll fix that!’ So the first thing he did was to set about destroying the sole agency. He was successful in breaking down the sole agency in England, which is where all the stuff went to. He then put himself up for election to the Honey Marketing Authority on the basis that he would seek its winding up. The beekeepers in New Zealand elected him to that role and he was successful in having the Honey Marketing Authority wound up, and the money that they had left over was placed in a trust which is used for bee research.

So he began to export honey himself, and everyone else was entitled to do the same. So off he went around the world, and he did this just at the right time. This one tells you what we were selling honey for at that time; this is a five-hundred-gram pot of honey – in effect it’s a one pound pot. The price we were selling to our merchants for a one-pound pot: $3.18 a dozen. [Chuckles] A dozen – 20c. [Twenty cents] I look on the back of this and it says $9.50. That’s how it was.

Now, this is a truckload of real gold. When we started exporting, we didn’t export honey itself, in this format. We exported comb honey. Comb honey was a product we were able to produce well in Hawke’s Bay, and we had an agent in England who sold it round the world for us, and eventually we took over the marketing ourselves.

This lot is twenty-two sea vans we call them … those little boxes or big boxes … and you may see from the markings that they are addressed to ‘AMF’ … Arthur Franks … at ‘HOD’, which is Hodeidah in North Yemen, via Singapore. Now those were the days when Yemen was a placid place, not wracked by fighting as it is now, and North Yemen was well off. People were all working over the fence in Saudi Arabia. And this is huge money; twenty-two sea vans of comb honey.

Another firm you’ll all recognise – Williams & Creagh – they did the carrying, and they took it over to the port, put it on the boat. And this is what they were doing – there’s my father on the right, and the staff there – cutting the comb out with a heated slicer in effect; cutting the comb out, putting it into a plastic container with a clear top, and then it was stuck down, put into cardboard cartons and into the sea van, and off it goes to the Yemen and other places all around the world.

But in the 1950s, after we’d bought out several beekeeping units in South Waikato, my brother Russell joined the company, and he took over the running of the Waikato-Rotorua Division. But Russell is like my father was – he’s an argumentative, political person, but busy – we’re all busy – and he made his bees work really, really hard. So he’s got fourteen thousand hives of bees in Waikato and in Gore. But not only does he produce honey, he also has seven thousand hives of bees each season in the kiwifruit pollination; in other words a dominant force in the pollination of kiwifruit for the Bay of Plenty; and he sends hives to Canada by way of export. Once the bees have been in the kiwifruit, then collected some honey, they then get pensioned off and sent to Canada, because Canada – it’s a very hard winter over there. They either gas their bees in the autumn or they die out and become weak, so he sends bees to Canada.

Now, I’ll just show you something. I haven’t brought many props, just in case you wondered what this is for. This is an export container for bees. There’s lots of ways of doing it – this is a patented one that Russell developed, a very skilful engineer. What it is … just like a newspaper tube … you put a cartonful or a bit more of bees in there, you put some honey-icing sugar gel mix in to feed them. You get a queen bee and put it in there, all alone, and you put that down in there so the bees can walk on it; pop the queen in, and you put the lid on and off it goes to Canada. They go onto pallets and they fly away, mostly on Air New Zealand in the belly of the plane, and off they go to Canada. And they’re distributed all across Canada by agents over there. Millions of dollars worth … millions of dollars worth. And it provides an additional income stream as we’re all looking to work our capital harder. It provides more money for each dollar you’ve got invested in your bees by having different ways of producing income from the same bees.

Kiwifruit – we were talking about a minute ago – kiwifruit growers are paying $240 a hive to rent the bees for about three weeks. The biggest cost to us of having the hives in the kiwifruit is the loss of honey, though, not the cost of getting them there. They could’ve been out doing other things, but they were busy pollinating kiwifruit. So there’s seven thousand hives a year going to kiwifruit but they’re happy to pay that price, and they cannot get enough.

What I’ve got here … this may be relevant. How ‘bout that? [Shows slide of opposition company Comvita] Yeah, a well-known name these days. They were just small beekeepers in Kaitaia, and I see they’ve just announced that they’re going to lose $7million this year. Comvita is very much into the medical products, but they’ve also become established in recent years in honey production by buying out beekeepers all over, including in Hawke’s Bay. And they don’t do it quite so well as Arataki does, and Arataki won’t lose $7million, I can assure you of that, but Comvita will.

Part of the expansion programme is to buy – [re]member Bill Ashcott, and Paul Ashcott his son. Paul has succeeded to his father’s bees; ran it for a while and eventually said, “Look, will you buy me out?” So Ian bought him out. Yeah.

While we’re really doing all these things, Russell was, as I say, doing his export; and this is just a little aside – that is a Russian Ilyushin Armed Forces cargo plane. So they hired that thing, and filled it up with those [demonstrates on slide] and flew the whole plane load to South Korea. Russell and his son lived in the back, and they flew the whole lot to South Korea. But before they could get off the ground they had to write a cheque out to the Auckland Airport for $37,000 to pay for enough fuel [chuckles] for the plane, because the credit of the charterers of the plane was not very good. They took the plane load of bees to South Korea.

Question: And how much did it cost to rent the plane?

Alan: Heaps and heaps; but the cargo was very valuable.

So once we got further down the track, the business was becoming quite large and, apart from selling its own production, we started to buy in the production of other beekeepers. And as time went by the Arataki brand became more and more dominant in the retail market. Now we’re selling … thirty-two percent of the total retail trade of retail packs is Arataki honey. Others have come and gone, but Arataki just grinds away there at – I won’t say at a fair price, but anyway – at a fairly high price at the moment. They keep on doing a good job, doing their job well, servicing their customers; and the retail customers are well satisfied with what they get with the result that Arataki is in a dominant position in the market.

But in addition to that, we sell all sorts of things; propolis – the sticky stuff that glues eyes together – a big business creating propolis products … health products from that; can sell pollen; all sorts of things; subsidiary products from the production of honey, and they all add to the income stream from the beehive.

But when we come to where we are today – and I’m happy to take questions on these things – our father would have been saddened to see what’s happening in the industry today. There were only two hundred thousand hives around forty years ago; now there’s eight hundred thousand, and the eight hundred thousand into the area that two hundred thousand used to live in, won’t go. And what is happening at the moment is that the industry cowboys who’ve come into the industry recently, who are just swamping … swamping the areas of Hawke’s Bay and others with hives that they bring in and drop right on top of the resident beekeepers’ properties. Whereas we used to have a gentleman’s arrangement – if you had bees on your farm, beekeeper was there – we’d put ours a mile down the road so as not to over-stock any area, ‘cause bear in mind that a beehive will consume two-thirds of its own production; so therefore the production needs to drop only one-third and there’s nothing to harvest. And that is what is happening around here. People will observe that it’s been a very bad year this year. Apart from the weather – the rain and the wind and everything else – the population of beehives is so great that there is [are] just not enough nectar sources to support the beehives that are there and to allow a viable business to be run on it.

So what we’re going to see is similar to what we’ve seen in the cow-farming area; the dairy industry rose like a star, went pear-shaped, has come down but is steadying and is now starting to rise again. Our predictions are that the beekeeping industry will go through the same sort of pattern. It’ll rise – it has risen – lots of money to be made in bees in recent times; it has fallen part way already … we talked about Comvita’s loss of $7million; it will go lower … a lot lower yet; but will probably stay down because the price of New Zealand honey is at a vast premium compared with the world market. We’re getting $8, $10, $12 a kilo because people like New Zealand honey round the world; also because it is free of antibiotics, it’s free of all the nasties that confront anybody who buys Chinese honey. Most of the honeys of the world are supported by bees that are protected by antibiotics. Canadian honey … perfect stuff, $3.50 a kilo. This is the sort of premium we’re getting for New Zealand honey. What will happen though of course, we’ll be faced with I guess, the problem of if the others go downhill and finally want to sell, what does an established business do? Do you buy them out or just let it go? So it’s a bit like the fluctuating fortunes of the dairy industry.

But the fourth generation of Arataki is now working in the factory doing all manner of things. One of the things you’ll see here – one of our very long-serving ladies – that’s Judy, yeah – she worked at the honey packing machine for many, many years, and now of course everything is automated; it’s electronic; it is stainless steel; all lovely, which we need to provide the honey pack to meet the demand in the marketplace. We finally end up in the situation we’re in now, where the beekeeping industry is going through difficulties.

Arataki is well-supported by the many people that we deal with over the years, and although we place values on different things, we don’t place much value on physical possession so there’s no BMWs in the company. But we do place great value on the input of the many stakeholders that we’ve got around here; our staff – we’ve got a hundred and ten staff working in the company; the orchardists in whose orchards we put the bees; the farmers – we’ve been loyally supported by hundreds of farmers over a period of many, many years, and we have an obligation to provide them with pollination for their pastures. The orchardists … they need us. Without Arataki’s bees in the kiwifruit particularly, ‘specially in the Bay of Plenty, they’d just stop. There are not enough bees around to provide the pollination if we don’t do it. And all those things … the community … we’ve been greatly supported by the community, and therefore we feel an obligation to all of those people. Somewhere down the back end comes the shareholders. That’s all right – we’re not worried about that.

So finally we sort of end up at the back end of the talk on Arataki honey. Thank you for your attention.


Joyce: Alan, there’s got to be questions …

Alan: Bear in mind, I’m a bookkeeper, I’m not a beekeeper.

Question: Just a quick one – what weight were the sea vans?

Comment: One ton three hundredweight, it says.

Alan: One ton three hundredweight – somebody’s reading, yes.

Question: The live bees going to Canada – do they have to go through some sort of agricultural ..?

Alan: Health sort of things – yes. That’s all done before they go. They can only be sent from certified apiaries that have been tested and certified clean and free from disease and all that sort of stuff. New Zealand’s very fortunate; it doesn’t have some of the really serious diseases that are prevalent in other parts of the world. But they are all checked out by MAF before they go.

Question: Alan, the success of your exhibition area in Havelock North – how many children are you putting through?

Alan: Hundreds. Hundreds of them. The Honey Centre … you’ll see on your seats there; the Visitors’ Centre is a very popular destination for school groups, and all sorts of people coming from outside the district, and particularly for tourists. Busloads arrive there, and they get off the boats and that sort of thing. There are thousands of people going through there. It’s not a huge money-making venture in the sense that it’s quite expensive to run, but it’s a show-piece for the company, and we’re happy to do that.

Question: In the fifties when you went up Te Mata Road and you saw the Ficklings’ log cabin selling fresh fruit, very nice and ripe; we used to sell Arataki honey and it was in the wax container I believe, and it used to have the hexagonal logo which you had for many years. Tell us the story of how that came about.

Alan: The hexagonal logo was in effect an A and an H, and it may be on some of those boxes there. It’s just a stylised A and H in a bee cell shape.

Came about like that.

Question: You mentioned Gore … are you still drawing honey from Gore?

Alan: Not this year, no. [Chuckle] No, the weather’s been disastrous in Gore this year. Southland is a wonderful place; it’s got the combination of beautiful clover pastures, and then the Catlins over to the east, so we get all manner of native trees, native flowers and so on over there. But this year’s been a disaster. But it’s great for producing comb honey – white comb honey comes from Gore. And a dozen comb honey sells to a retailer for about $120 a dozen. But not this year.

Question: Alan, the problem with the Australian Manuka honey – is that a problem to you here?

Alan: Manuka honey has lots of problems. They’re trying to define what manuka honey is. The Ministry for Primary Industries is working overtime trying to get out a standard for what is manuka honey. The Australians have got … we’ve got about six varieties of manuka here; the Australians have got about forty-six varieties including jellybush, which is a very high UMF factor. These are some of the reasons why we think that the glory days for beekeeping in New Zealand are coming to an end, because the Australians have got a product that will be virtually unable to be differentiated from New Zealand honey. So the Australians are poised to launch a lot of manuka honey on the world market. ‘Cause what it is at the moment, you cannot import honey into New Zealand; one of the few countries in the world you cannot import honey. If you go overseas, don’t try to bring back a carton of honey, because there are diseases there that we don’t have. And Russell, particularly in Rotorua, has spent lots, and has strived to keep Australian honey out … any imports out. What happened when Australia opened their borders, the Chinese sent honey to Australia; full of antibiotics and all sorts of stuff; the Australians packed it up and put half of theirs and half of the Chinese and labelled ‘Australian’ and sent it to Canada. They said, “What’s all the antibiotic stuff doing in this?” You see? Because the scientists can pick up anything. So we just cannot afford to have imports if we are going to maintain the premium price that we get for New Zealand honey over the rest of the world.

Question: What about varroa ..? [Inaudible]

Alan: Varroa was an interesting one – of course it’s gradually worked its way right through New Zealand now. But the varroa mite came in, we believe, in the side of a container that somebody poked a forklift through. A little hive overseas got into it, established a hive, got to Auckland, popped out, said, “Oh, this is nice, we like it here”; and expanded around the Auckland area and eventually came down here. It costs about $30 a year to prevent the varroa getting on top of the hives – per hive. We put strips in that gives off a vapour that kills the varroa mite, but the effect of it also was to kill all the feral hives; whereas there used to be hives in woolsheds and in willow trees and all over the place, all gone. So it reduced the competition, anyway. [Chuckles]

Question: Alan, have there been some innovative ways of stopping or tracing the stolen hives?

Alan: No. No, because each site of bees has to have a label on it as to whose bees they are, and on Arataki ones they’ve got ‘E1’ … East Coast One … branded into the boxes of the hives. But once they take them away … there’s a lot of boxes that aren’t branded round the country … all you need to do is to reassemble them and you’ve got a hive that’s worth $600. And then of course you have the hive on a site, the site value; the goodwill of the old key money in effect, of the site … is worth a lot of money if you’ve got one good manuka site. And manuka sites these days are costing … hundreds of thousands of dollars we’re paying. We have no problem with this – if you have a block of manuka or a forestry block with a lot of manuka round the outside or something like that, you have a resource that is worth money, and therefore the users have to pay, and will pay. In the end it goes into the price, if you can get the price.

Question: Alan, any difference between kanuka and manuka?

Alan: It is distinguishable, but in reality it all goes in together.

Joyce: Alan, I can’t thank you enough; this has been amazing.


Original digital file


Non-commercial use

Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).


Commercial Use

Please contact us for information about using this material commercially.

Format of the original

Audio recording

Additional information

Landmarks Talk 11 April 2017

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.