Sri's shares what her experience has been like opening up export markets in India and the Middle East, we talk about how Zealandia is going beyond Manuka honey using research led innovation to create new products and what it feel likes as to bring her vision to life with business co-founders Sunil and Robin.
A Kiwi Original shares uniquely Kiwi stories from people contributing to New Zealand's future. Each episode is approximately 25 - 35 minutes long. While each interview is unique, there are key themes that come up each time including:
Check out the Buy New Zealand Made website here;
Or find a direct link to YouTube here: https://youtu.be/JIdY_-IiP5w
Or listen on Apple Podcast by clicking here: https://podcasts.apple.com/nz/podcast/a-kiwi-original-sri-govindaraju-zealandia-honey-054/id1459210919?i=1000490409734
Last but not least the Spotify podcast can be found here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/29pmNMdezM7PJ8dCbqTTjT
In association with Enterprise Great Lake Taupō, we take a look at local businesses who are adapting to deal with the challenges presented by Covid-19.
When the Covid-19 lockdown plans were announced the team at Taupō honey exporter Zealandia Honey were in shock.
"Our first thought was, no way, this can't be happening right now" says Sri Govindaraju, head of marketing and sales at Zealandia Honey. "We were right in the middle of preparing a big order for United Arab Emirates, and had finalised another order for a new client in Saudi Arabia. Honey drums were coming in from different parts of the country and we needed more packaging and labels."
After several intense days of planning, re-scheduling, and creative thinking, Zealandia Honey was able to get their production line back on track.
"We sent all our suppliers a letter explaining our status as an essential business and how we had adapted our operations to meet the Covid-19 requirements. It was important to reassure our contacts that Zealandia Honey had government approval to operate and that we were taking the situation seriously" says Sri.
The company's flexible business structure has helped the company adapt quickly. Prior to the lockdown the team was already working remotely, catching up in person for weekly team meetings and client appointments. It was a relatively easy transition to have meetings over the phone or on video conference.
"We see ourselves as a cloud-based honey company. We don't have our own beehives, factories or storage facilities – we make use of the extra capacity through the network. We believe that collaborative approaches like this are a great way to grow collectively as a community and it also greens our economy" says Sri.
Zealandia Honey has experienced an increase in enquiries over the last month due to the known health properties of New Zealand honey.
"Honey isn't antiviral, so it won't protect against Covid-19 directly. It's always a good idea to boost your general health by eating natural" says Sri.
Sri's advice for businesses during these challenging times is to be open-minded.
"You may have to change your processes and look for new options. It won't be perfect, and there will be things that are out of your control. Everyone is under pressure right now and it's really important to keep communication open and recognise that this is a difficult time.
"Look after your team and be patient with your supply chain. And don't underestimate the power of collaboration!"
Slick marketing definitely, but is it art?
When Taupō based honey company Zealandia Honey ended up with a batch of manuka honey whose potency was hundreds of times above average it sought to sell it in a correspondingly special vessel.
This may have bumped the price up to US $2020 (NZ $3100) for a 200 gram bottle – but the 120 jars have all sold.
All to one buyer who didn’t want to have his identity known, said Sri Jyothi Govindaraju, Zealandia Honey’s head of marketing and sales.
The “magic ingredient” is methylglyoxal or MGO, said Robin De Geus, the company’s chief strategy officer said at a launch of the special reserve honey in Taupō’s Lava Glass Glassblowing Studio and Art Gallery on Saturday.
“In other honeys it will be around 0-30 milligrams per kilogram,” said De Geus, “in ours it is 1717 milligrams per kilogram. There have been honeys ranging from everywhere in between and some around 1700 before us.”
So it’s some of the most potent manuka honey around and, while the trim, besuited De Geus is fairly laid back in his sales pitch, he can wax lyrical with a ‘but wait there’s more…’
“The cool effect about this honey is it will mature over time. Our research and development company says it will get to 2000 mgs probably in one year’s time. It’s like a good whisky or a wine or cheese.”
The honey, Zealandia’s website says, has already been maturing since harvest in 2015.
Hydrogen peroxide gives most honey its antibiotic quality. But some types, including manuka, contain other ingredients, such as MGO which appears to have an antibacterial effect on Escherichia coli (E. coli), Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen which generally affects the immunocompromised and has a natural resistance to antibiotics.
Methylglyoxal usually only appears in small quantities.
“This particular honey came from Northland. Eighty per cent of our honey comes from the Central Plateau but only in Northland does it get the ultra-high potency because of the heat and less moisture,” said De Geus.
The company’s chief executive officer, researcher and food scientist, and Govindaraju’s husband, Sunil Pinnamaneni, who has been in honey for 10 years, and works with selected beekeepers to buy honey for the company, had “never seen a honey like this before,” noted De Geus.
At Saturday night’s launch, De Geus and Govindaraju related how they managed during Covid-19 lockdown to coordinate three artists – glassblower Lynden Over, wood turner, Robbie Graham and sculptor Raynor Dunn – to produce the 120 individually blown jars, individually fitted tops and sculpted metal surround, containing nutritional panel and blurb.
A film production by Joel Corbie accompanied the unveiling to suppliers and guests.
While the unique vessel was a way of creating a buzz for the company, it was also something the purchasers would continue to appreciate, said De Geus, after parting with the symbolic price of US $2020.
“And that’s what we wanted… glass is a beautiful medium, that was the start.”
They then needed the wood tops to be individually turned and be able to seal with an o-ring.
“And we needed the legal requirements like the nutritional panel. I live close to the bush in Omori, Ray lives up on the hill and I thought that guy makes amazing sculptures so around the jar we had metal we could engrave the text on.
“It’s very important for us that the artists’ work is more than just an object – it’s a skill, experience and importantly how we feel seeing it or using it.
“Are people going to accept it – it’s like making a painting. People have to like it for people to buy it.”
Laurilee McMichael is editor of the Taupo & Turangi Weekender
A high-grade honey. A bespoke handcrafted glass container. A handturned lid and totara plinth. And, a custom-made stainless steel sleeve. It would be fair to say Taupō-based business Zealandia Honey's premium honey is an artwork in its own right.
The price reflects it, with each 200g of honey in its handblown glass jar costing $3100. All have already been sold to an offshore private buyer, with several going to a royal family in the United Arab Emirates.
The 120 glass jars are a myriad of colours and swirls that represent Zealandia Honey, the volcanoes, lakes and rivers of the Central Plateau. Each jar was individually created by Taupō glass artist Lynden Over. The jars' wooden lids and plinths were each produced exactly to fit by Waitahanui woodturner Robbie Graham. And the stainless steel sleeve by Omori-based steel artist Raynor Dunn not only looks stylish but also provides a surface to print the important regulatory information that must accompany honey.
What's inside is a special product that justifies the special treatment. It is a manuka honey with what Zealandia staff think is the highest concentration of the antibacterial component methylglyoxal ever recorded.
Zealandia Honey owner and chief strategy officer Robin de Geus explains that of all the honeys in the world, manuka is the only one that contains methylglyoxal.
In the right conditions the honey can be matured like a whiskey or a fine wine and the amount of methylglyoxal (MGO) in the honey will increase. Because the MGO balance requires a combination of 50 different variables, all of which must be exactly right, honey with a high MGO count is rarely harvested.
So when Zealandia Honey was offered a high MGO honey for sale, it jumped at the chance.
Company co-owners Sri Govindaraju (head of communications), her husband Sunil Pinnamaneni (also chief executive) and Robin de Geus (also chief strategy officer) formed Taupō-based Zealandia Honey 15 months ago after Robin and Sunil met working in a laboratory and found they had matching visions.
Robin had the entrepreneurial expertise and Sunil the understanding of honey. Sri has a food science background and Sunil pursued a masters degree in London and Sweden in food science and biotechnology. Robin is a former lead auditor for integrated management systems and is passionate about design and concept creation.
Zealandia Honey does not produce the honey itself but works with selected beekeepers, outsourcing many of its processes. Beekeepers send samples of their honey to the company, which tests them in its laboratory and from there decides whether to buy the honey.
De Geus says within the honey industry there is a lot of trading and drums of honey can change hands several times. When Zealandia bought this particular batch, the MGO count was 1100mg/kg and rising. It was stored to allow it to mature, and lab testing before bottling confirmed the MGO level was at 1717mg although Pinnamaneni expects it could eventually rise as high as 2000mg.
De Geus says while there is a lot of honey produced in New Zealand, it is putting it into the jars that is the part with the most business risk and that is where Zealandia is involved. It contracts out its manufacturing and packing but in Taupō it has an office, a storage facility and a research and development wing which employs a scientist and a project manager. Some 99 per cent of Zealandia's product is exported.
"It's an investment. We have the honey but we have to wait a long time."
Having secured the honey, the challenge for Zealandia was how to market and present such a premium product in an innovative, artistic and beautiful way, a project which was right up de Geus' street.
They briefed glass artist Over on what they wanted for their honey jars - a glass receptacle with a volcanic background that would encompass the message of the Central Plateau as well as being unique. Once the jars were in train, they also had to find artists to create the lids and sleeves.
The resulting products, de Geus says, are pieces of art.
"This is such a unique piece, it's like a painting. For us, it's more about creating a statement than the monetary value that's in it. The statement is about the artists, about the brand, working with people from the land that are creative. It's very important for us to tell that story and we wanted to show off our scientific knowledge by creating the most potent honey in the world."
With its hefty price tag, this honey was only going to ever appeal to a small group of very wealthy people. De Geus says Pinnamaneni has formed connections because of his vast experience in the honey industry, which led to a buyer.
Govindaraju says the bulk of the money from the premium honey project is staying within the Central Plateau, not only with Zealandia but also with the artists and extra involvement from people like filmmaker Joel Corbett who shot a series of videos to accompany the honey's release.
What made the premium honey release really complicated was that the finishing touches had to be done during the alert level 4 lockdown. Over was able to finish glass blowing the last of the 130 jars required just before the lockdown took effect.
As an essential business, Zealandia was able to move the glass from point to point and Govindaraju and de Geus were part of each other's bubbles which allowed them to work together. When they were unable to source some things - such as the laser cutting for the steel sleeves - they improvised. De Geus bought a laser cutter and did the work himself, saying he loves that sort of task anyway.
It was a stressful time all round with a short eight-week timeline to come up with a concept, create the components and put the finished product together, made more complicated by the level 4 and level 3 lockdown. But, they did it and the product left New Zealand in early May.
"It's a good feeling," de Geus says. "Zealandia is about collaboration.
"Everything is handcrafted. Nothing can be bought off the shelf, not even the rubber seals for the lids which all had to be done individually to fit."
© Laurilee McMichael - Taupo & Turangi Weekender 2020