Honey export: the challenge for Argentina is to increase the commercialization of premium products

28 Jul 2022

98% of sales abroad are in bulk; however, the price of packaged food can be six times higher

Argentina produces very good quality honey, according to technical evaluations, but it exports 98% in bulk, that is, without specifying its origin. According to specialists consulted by LA NACION, to gain market share with a fractionated product, strong work with varietals and history is required, as is the case in New Zealand with Manuka honey, which sells for up to US$400 per kilo.

Local honey production was fourth worldwide according to the latest data available for 2020 from the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) behind China (458,100 tons), Turkey (104,077) and Iran (79,955).

In the same year, the main exporters of natural honey were New Zealand (US$328 million); China (US$229 million), Argentina (US$175 million) and Germany (US$155 million). Globally, honey ranked 676 of the most traded products in the world, and moved US$2.29 billion, with growth compared to 2019 of 14.8%.

The United States is the main importer of honey in the world -also the number one destination for shipments from Argentina-; They are followed by Germany, Japan (second and third markets, respectively for local honey), the United Kingdom and France. The nucleus of the Argentine beekeeping activity, explains Lucas Martínez, president of the Argentine Society of Beekeepers, is distributed between La Pampa, Entre Ríos, Córdoba and Buenos Aires. “The largest number of beehives and beekeepers are concentrated there,” he says, stressing that national exports fluctuate annually between 55,000 and 70,000 tons.

“We could strongly scale the fractional market if there was more internal stability,” he says. The raw material is honey, but it is conditioned, like all exports, by the exchange rate, logistics costs, and packaging costs. That business segment requires development that takes between five and seven years to start moving.”

Martínez insists that if between 20,000 and 30,000 tons were sold in fractions, the country would stand differently on the world map.

René Sayago, president of the Coopsol cooperative –based in Santiago del Estero and which exports honey in bulk and, this year, three containers of fractionated to the United States–, reviews that after 2021 with “exceptionally high” prices for bulk –it reached US$4 per kilo (a value surpassed by the organic one)– now it is around US$3.20, a price that jeopardizes the profitability of the producers.

“As the devaluation did not accompany inflation, the situation is quite critical,” he says. International demand is maintained, even with a shift towards organic that began with Covid-19.

Coopsol has been exporting since the ’90s; 85% of the 200 annual organic tons it produces goes abroad. “Increasing the volume is very slow; the lack of financing jeopardizes the expansion; we are advancing towards Salta, but it is going slowly because access to credit is practically forbidden”, Sayago summarizes.

Regarding fractionation, at the beginning of this year they completed a shipment to Japan of 2,000 500-gram jars of Wayra honey from the Atamisqui mountains and another to the United States (until December there will be two more containers). They advanced into those markets through an agreement with the company Biosophy.

The cooperative works with almost 300 peasants from the forests of the Gran Chaco Americano, so the economy of beekeeping has a direct impact on the quality of life of these communities.

Argenmieles is a national company – it is part of the export division of Grupo Grúas San Blas and was born in 2010 due to the company’s need to earn foreign currency to import – that exports to around 20 destinations (most of them in bulk) and is leader in the international trade of fractionated honey. Between its own and purchased production, it manages some 3,000 tons per year, of which 95% goes abroad.

The company has its operations center in Roque Saénz Peña, Chaco, and offers multifloral and monofloral, creamy, certified organic and conventional honeys. Lucas Andersen, its manager, points out that they began to produce with beekeepers who were clients of the group. The first export was to Spain and the first shipment of split product was made in 2013. It has another plant in Tigre, in addition to the one in Chaco.

“The sale in bulk follows the rules of all commodities –says Andersen-, it adapts to international prices. The fractional prices are more sensitive because they go directly to the gondola; you have to hold them and prop up the product. It is not easy to reach and stay. Some internal costs work against us”.

The Roque Sáenz Peña plant has authorizations from the FDA and Fccba 2000, two demanding certifications that open the doors to international markets; in these facilities they produce fractional for private brands outside. Andersen defines it as a “reconversion of bulk importers to finished product”.

He agrees with Sayago on the growth in international demand for organics and tells that in Chaco –with an ideal native forest–, in a combined four-year effort between the State, producers and the private sector, the certification of individual producers was achieved, which It implies a “quantum leap” and, in addition, “more stable and regular” prices than the conventional one.

The company is trying to enter the Chinese market with packaged honey: “It is always the great desire of Argentine companies for what the expansion of consumption of the middle class that chooses imported products implies. There were missions and we hope that the entrance will be enabled.

The producers agree that the quality of the Argentine honey that is sold in bulk is of “the highest level, suitable for very demanding markets”, but it ends up being converted into a blend mixed with Chinese honey and an “origin” one, such as an Argentine one. , Vietnamese, New Zealand or local.

The inconvenience for the export of fractionated -describes Ricardo Parra, from Las Quinas, who exports about 50 tons per year in bulk- lies mainly in the cost of the containers (glass containers are heavy and, in recent times, difficult to obtain and those of PET require several certifications).

“It is important to reach the world with added value and label, but a complete and long-term work is required -he continues-. If the demand that arises is less than one container, shipping is not justified due to the costs”. Parra is convinced that the “maximum added value that today is in a position to give is in semi-finished products that, for example, are packaged at the destination for steaks to be used in bars.”

Although New Zealand Manuka is expensive and has gained its place in the market, it is not the most expensive in the world. The Elvish variety, from the Turkish caves of Saricayir Dagi, can fetch US$6,000 a kilo.

Risks to control

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) describes that some pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35% of world agricultural production, raising the production of 87 of the main food crops in the world. world, and of many medicines derived from plants. 75% of the world’s crops that produce fruit or seeds for human use as food depend, at least in part, on pollinators.

In Argentina, a study by the Ecology of Pollination group, from the Biodiversity and Environment Research Institute of the National University of Comahue and Conicet, warned two years ago that the increase in the area cultivated with soybeans in Argentina is associated with a drop 60% in yield in kilos of honey per hive.

“Bees need access to a diverse and abundant supply of pollen and nectar throughout the year, in order to obtain balanced nutrition and develop large and healthy populations,” says Grecia de Groot, author of the work together with the researchers from Conicet Marcelo Aizen, Carolina Morales and Agustin Saez.

Beekeeping production, in addition to honey, generates other products such as pollen, royal jelly, wax, propolis, nuclei, queens, pollination, apitoxin and by-products such as beer with honey, beekeeping cosmetics, honey and propolis candies, candles from the natural beeswax and mead or mead, a drink produced only from honey, water and yeast, which contains beneficial actions for health.

From the sector they understand that there must be a national beekeeping law that promotes and supports the activity. In 2007, a ten-year national plan was implemented and there are several provincial regulations -for example, in Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Río Negro, Santa Fe, Entre Ríos-, but they emphasize that more institutionality is required.

Source: La Nacion