Paddocks have become fields of gold
True Honey company recognised at national awards
It’s a long way from the paddocks around remote Pongaroa, to flying helicopters, to a production plant supporting 44 staff, sitting as executive director at a head office in Napier, and selling pots of honey for several thousand dollars.
But the territory in between is like a field of gold for former helicopter pilot Jim McMillan, head of True Honey, which this week was recognised with the Primary Industries national Producer of the Year Award.
Back in Hawke’s Bay after the glamour of the awards ceremony in Christchurch, he said: “I’m a grassroots man.”
It might be said he’s more a ma¯nuka roots man for having seen the abundance of untapped opportunity on the hillsides in his flying days.
True Honey has developed in little over five years from what might be called, by comparison, a tin-pot operation, to a significant player in Hawke’s Bay business.
It now has a production and packaging plant established in the Oringi Business Park south of Dannevirke, and exports to 12 countries or so.
McMillan had never seen himself as potential executive director material, and says it’s just “evolved” as he’s learned the things he’s needed to without having trot off to university for any management and marketing degree.
He says it wouldn’t have happened without the support of farmers he now sees as “partners”, who are also reaping the benefits of production from the ma¯nuka on land which offered little to no economic benefit in the past.
“In most cases there is now a significant income stream on what was quite marginal land,” he says. “A lot of the landowners weren’t receiving any revenue from the ma¯nuka at all,” he says.
Then there are the others who’ve come aboard. He says he brought a bit of “natural entrepreneurial” skill into the game but it needed a lot more.
“I think it’s about surrounding yourself with people who know a lot more than you do,” he says.
Award judges said True Honey had taken the highest-grade New Zealand ma¯nuka honey to the world’s most exclusive markets.
“From having hives in dense ma¯nuka serviced by helicopter to world-class processing for a qualitydriven highly-discerning marketplace, the company has taken a natural New Zealand product to international recognition and acclaim,” they said.
In 2019, True Honey enjoyed international limelight as Harrods in the UK started selling 230g pots of golden nectar from the company at the equivalent of $2724 each.
The company is also a finalist in the Hawke’s Bay segment of the ExportNZ export awards, in the Excellence in Innovation category. Winners will be announced in Hastings on July 29.