Leading UK honey business – Rowse – has reportedly instructed its lawyers to oppose New Zealand’s attempt to trademark manuka honey.
UK trademark authorities initially agreed to the NZ trademark claim back in 2017. However other countries, including the US, China and Australia all knocked back the request.
The UK decision was also quickly appealed by Australia's Manuka Honey Association and so has never been finalised.
More recently, New Zealand has renewed its push for a global monopoly, starting with an attempt to get local authorities to grant the trademark within NZ.
[The move is largely legal manoeuvring, and unlike to have any actual impact or effect in New Zealand. Thats because only locally produced honeys are available for sale in NZ - imported honeys are banned. But the Kiwi’s presumably believe a win at home may set a precedent other countries might follow.]
And against that backdrop the Rowse move is significant. Not only is the company a leading player in the UK market, but it has been selling NZ sourced Manuka honey in the UK for some years.
According to the reports, a spokesperson for Rowse told the Daily Telegraph that the company fears a successful NZ trademark claim would make manuka honey much more expensive.
"While we currently only source our mānuka honey from New Zealand and are a significant purchaser of high-quality New Zealand mānuka honey, Rowse believes this certification trademark application would have a negative impact on competition, restrict global supply and potentially ultimately result in significant price increases, for UK consumers."
Australia’s Manuka Honey Association has been actively opposing the New Zealand trademark push, but has struggled to match the millions of dollars being thrown at the campaign by the New Zealand government.
Australia’s trade minister, Dan Tehan recently called for the two countries to workshop the issues and see if a co-operative approach could be adopted.
Thus far, however, his call has been largely ignored..
Moreover the New Zealanders have recently re-vamped their trademarking strategy, and put the campaign in the hands of a new entity set up by Maori honey interests.
Formerly, the NZ claims were led by a company associated with the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) Honey Association, known as the Manuka Honey Appellation Society (MHAS). And New Zealand's government kicked in more than $NZ6 million to back the claim.
However the MHAS appears to have handed prosecution of the claim on to a brand-new entity, known as the Manuka Charitable Trust.
The Trust has set up a subsidiary company to run the campaign – Te Pitau Ltd and Maori honey entrepreneurs and Maori owned honey businesses are prominent amongst its directors.
According to the Trust's one page web site it is backed by a “Government investment administered by the Provincial Development Unit”. And the trust’s subsidiary company – Te Pitau Ltd is reported to have direct funding from the New Zealand governments Provincial Growth Fund.
NZ Companies Office records show that Comvita’s communications manager, Tony Wright, is one of Te Pitau’s seven directors, with executives from New Zealand’s biggest maori-owned honey company – Watson & Sons (Oha honey) also on the board.
For more information on the Manuka Charitable Trust go to www.mct.nz
See also https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/399537/millions-poured-to-ensure-manuka-honey-is-a-nz-only-product