The sting in the tail: New Zealanders push to trade mark “Manuka” in relation to honey products

September 8, 2016 Published by

A rift has emerged between the Australian and New Zealand honey industries, resulting from a trade mark application lodged by New Zealand producers to trade mark the term ‘Manuka’, as a way of gaining exclusive rights over the word.



Manuka honey is produced solely from the Leptospermum scoparium plant, which in turn is native to Australia and New Zealand (commonly referred to in Australia as tea tree). The product features at the top end of the health food chain, commanding high prices and celebrity endorsements for its unique properties

In fact, according to a recent report published by the ABC, the product can sell in export markets “…for around $150 per kilogram…(and) (i)ndustry estimates have put the combined export value of the Australian and New Zealand industry at around $300 million.”

The intention appears to be to create a badge of origin type mark centring on the word ‘Manuka’, which is a Maori word. John Rawcliffe of New Zealand’s Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association claims that “The word is a Maori word, and that needs to be protected and ensured it’s held in its rightful place here as part of New Zealand.”  He went on to contend that the term Manuka deserved the same kind of protection that Champagne and other high end products had obtained associated with a particular region or country.

A trade mark application has now been lodged in New Zealand. If successful, Australian producers would be restricted from using the term in relation to their products.

However, Mr Rawcliffe’s comments and the application have been rejected by Australian producers who claim to have evidence that the word was used by Tasmanian-based Aboriginal people, and that it has been used in Australia since the 1800’s. It has even been pointed out that Canberra had a suburb of the same name, further entrenching the word in the Australian vernacular.

Trevor White of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, said “I will certainly be objecting to any applications for having a restrictive use of that particular name.”

We will keep you posted.