US consumers make a beeline for honey-sweetened products4 Oct 2022
Honey-sweetened products are enjoying rising demand amongst US consumers, perceived as an all-natural product, according to recent USDA figures.
Recent figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest honey demand has reached an all-time high in the US, with consumption along with ‘made-with-honey’ products totalling 618 million pounds (lb) in 2021. The previous record was 596 million pounds in 2017.
“We are thrilled to see the results of this study,” says Margaret Lombard, chief executive officer of the National Honey Board.
“It means that consumers are beginning to understand when you choose honey you are not only getting a perfect all-natural sweetener, but you are supporting honeybees and beekeepers who help to feed the world."
Product launches with honey: Ice cream, ketchup, and energy bars
Recent years have seen a spate of product innovation using honey as a sweetener or for added flavour. In 2018, Unilever-owned Hellmann launched a honey-sweetened ketchup made with only six ingredients. Meanwhile, Kellogg-owned brand RX, has offered an ‘on-the-go’ solution with the release of ‘RXBar A.M,’ its range of clean-label energy bar that uses honey and coconut sugar to provide the sweet taste.
US ice cream brand Häagen‐Dazs continues to carry the Xerces Society's Bee Better Certified Seal on its products containing almonds, reassuring consumers the nut was grown and harvested in a 'bee-friendly' manner.
US consumers eat honey for health and sustainability
The plight of bees and its role in the honey making process was cited as a key purchasing factor in the National Honey Board’s 2021 Attitudes and Usage study.
Surveying 2,000 US consumers, the study found the most popular reasons for increased honey consumption were split between antioxidants and bee health. Despite its high sugar content, honey has been described as an immune system booster, thanks to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Research has also pointed to its antiviral effects that may offer protection from flu.
However, domestic production is not enough to meet demand in the US. Since 1991, imports of honey grew by an average 7.5% per year, or 17 million pounds, to fill the supply deficit from the declining domestic honey production.
“Imports have exceeded domestic honey production since 2005 and accounted for 74% of total US honey supplies in 2021, up from 27% in 1991,” the USDA report states.
Startups are making bee-free honey
Thus, environmental concerns have given way to alternative solutions to meet demand. Startups, such as Bee-io Honey, are now touting innovative ways to produce honey in the lab setting.
The food tech firm has begun scaling up development of its cultured honey production system, which uses a fermentation process and bioreactors, to produce in microorganisms, proteins normally produced by bees. The proteins are then blended with plant-derived natural nectar components to make honey.
Another startup in this space is MeliBio, a San Francisco-based firm that has just raised $5.7 million in funding to scale and commercialise its bee-free honey.
The process, which was previously named TIME’s Best Inventions in 2021, also uses a fermentation-based approach to produce honey that the firm says is molecularly identical to traditional honey.
“We know that science can produce delicious and nutritious honey at no cost to our precious bees,” says Darko Mandich, CEO & Co-Founder of MeliBio.
“At MeliBio, we are here to introduce certainty in the supply chain and help companies simplify their honey sourcing, while making their honey-based formulations sustainable and delicious.
“Together with our clients, we can make the future of honey better, for both humans and for bees.”
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