‘Buy local’ trips up honey producers

In 2014, the price of Canadian honey was basically the same as U.S. honey.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture national honey report from February 2014 said Canadian beekeepers received US$2.12 per pound for their honey and North Dakota beekeepers received $2.11 per lb.

That parity is over.

There is now a massive price gap between Canadian and American honey of about 70 cents per lb.

In the USDA national honey report from September of this year, North Dakota producers received $1.70 to $2.08 for their honey, while American honey packers were paying Canadian beekeepers $1.25 to $1.35 per lb.

“Our price doesn’t even come close to matching what the American producers are getting,” said Mike DeJong, president of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission and an apiarist from Hay Lakes, Alta.

The situation began to change around 2013.

That year, the U.S. media published a barrage of stories about fake honey and imports of Chinese honey being dumped into the U.S. market.

The U.S. government eventually fined two honey packers, one in Texas and one in Michigan, $1 million and $2 million, respectively, for illegal imports of Chinese honey.

In the aftermath of the fraud and embarrassment for the trade, a number of American honey companies decided to promote their products as “made in USA.” Those decisions had an impact north of the border.

“The problem really comes from a certain (honey) packer in the States,” said Mark Friesen, a honey producer from Morden, Man., and president of the Manitoba Beekeepers Association.

“(It) really started the trend to have only American based honey.”

As the trend took hold and other honey packers adopted the same policy, U.S. buyers began paying more per pound to American beekeepers and less to Canadian honey producers.

“We (Canadian producers) are still selling lots of honey to the States, but it’s significantly marked down,” Friesen said.

The discount hurts prairie beekeepers because the United States is the most important export destination for Canadian honey.

In 2015, based on Agriculture Canada data, Canada exported $65 million worth of honey, and $44.5 million of that went to the U.S.

The 80 cent loonie helps offset part of the price gap because Canadian producers receive about $1.55 per lb. for their honey right now.

However, the large difference in price is still frustrating, seeing how Canadian producers consider their honey to be equal in quality to U.S. product and possibly superior in some cases.

The challenge is that U.S. buyers now view Canadian honey as an import product and lump it in with honey from Argentina, Vietnam and other exporting nations.

Canada’s honey industry may need to spend money on a U.S. promotional campaign to highlight the quality and purity of Canadian honey, DeJong said.

“To get our honey to stand out against other countries’ honey, specifically China, Argentina,” he said. “We’re looking into it.”

The promotion in the U.S. would ideally bump up the price of Canadian honey, but it may be difficult to overcome the thriving “farm to table” movement in the U.S., in which consumers want to know who produced the jar of sticky syrup on their table and the pork chop on their plate.

“Food producers want to create a storyline where they can say this honey came from this producer … and (provide) a little bio on them,” Friesen said.

On top of their struggles in the U.S. market, Canadian beekeepers have also had difficulties the last few years in the domestic market. Imported honey has grabbed a larger share of the Canadian market because consumers were looking for deals at the grocery store and didn’t care or didn’t notice where the honey came from.

Canada imported 3,435 tonnes of honey in 2012 worth $14.9 million, based on Agriculture Canada data. That increased to 7,315 tonnes in 2015 and was worth more than $40 million.

Some of those imports came from China, the world’s largest producer of honey. Chinese honey has a reputation for poor quality and fake honey made from high glucose corn syrup.

Chinese companies have navigated around the country’s bad reputation by shipping product through other nations, thus changing the country of origin on the label.

A petition last year garnered more than 74,000 signatures claiming McCormick & Co. was importing cheap product instead of buying honey from Canadian beekeepers.

This spring McCormick promised to use only Canadian honey for its Billy Bee and Doyon brands.

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