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Natural honey: At the tip of the beehive

India should accelerate efforts to boost its honey production, given the huge untapped potential of 200 million bee colonies as well as prospects of a surge in demand post the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Global market size of natural honey is US$ 8.4 billion and it projected to reach US$ 10.3 billion by 2025, with an expected CAGR of around 4.8%.
  • Globally 1,779.6 metric tons of honey is produced. China produces almost 28% of world’s honey, followed by Turkey (5.9%), Iran (4.5%) and US (4.1%). India is the 6th largest producer of honey, accounting for 3.5% of global production. 
  • During the last decade, India’s exports of honey proliferated from US$ 56.2 million to US$ 100.8 million, experiencing a growth rate of 6.5% per annum, higher than the world’s exports growth. Additionally, India’s imports are almost negligible at US$ 1.9 million in 2019. Major export destination of Indian honey are USA, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
  • As per the Bibek Debroy-led beekeeping development committee report released last year, India has a potential of about 200 million bee colonies as against 3.4 million bee colonies presently.

Natural Honey

HS CODE: 040900

In common parlance, honey can be defined as a natural sweetener produced by honeybees and obtained through a plant’s nectar. Vital components of honey include carbohydrates, water, nitrogenous substances, and minerals.

The global market size of honey is around US$ 8.4 billion and it is projected to reach US$ 10.3 billion by 2025, with an expected CAGR of around 4.8%. Honey possesses anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-oxidant properties; hence it has the ability to resist infections, heal wounds and burns, and also provide relief from common cold and cough.

In addition, honey also has minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus and zinc. Honey is viewed as a potential replacement for table sugar. It is segmented into acacia, alfalfa, buckwheat, clover honey and wildflower. Among all the variants, wildflower honey is expected to have the highest market share and is projected to surge at a CAGR of 7.35% till 2025.

As consumers across the globe are becoming health conscious, they are increasingly inclined towards healthy and natural alternatives over artificial sweeteners. Burgeoning awareness about the benefits of honey is providing an impetus to the global honey market.

Facts about honey

  1. Each beehive can produce about 20 kg of honey per year
  2. Requirement to produce 1 kg of honey: 1 million flowers and 50,000 bee flights – 40 mg nectar for each bee flight (2g nectar=1g honey).
  3. Worldwide, there are more than 300 monofloral honey types.
  4. Italy is the only country in the world that produces more than 30 varieties of honey, but it is also the country that consumes the least amount of honey.
  5. Honey ranges in colour – from water white to dark brown/black.

As per the usage, honey is categorized into food & beverage, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and others. Among these, the food & beverage category dominates the market due to escalating demand for honey in food products.

One interesting fact is that during the COVID phase, the consumption of honey increased manifold, because it is considered as an efficient immunity booster. This segment is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 7.26% during the forecast period (2020-2025). Over the past decade, global trade of honey grew from US$ 1.5 billion to US$ 2.02 billion, registering a growth rate of 3.75%.

Source: ITC Trade Map, 2020, figures in US$ billion

Major exporters of honey are China, New Zealand, Argentina, Germany, Ukraine, India and Spain. Importers include US, Germany, Japan, France, UK, Italy and China.

Major exporters and importers of natural honey

Exporters Importers
Economies Value, in US$ million Economies Value, in US$ million
World 1, 990.5 World 2, 012.4
China 235.31 US 430.08
New Zealand 228.77 Germany 249.61
Argentina 146.70 Japan 144.52
Germany 131.49 UK 139.39
Ukraine 113.04 China 111.15
India 100.87 Italy 84.90

Source: ITC Trade Map, 2020, figures in US$ million

Top ten producers of honey

Rank Economies Production volume
1 China 489,400
2 Turkey 105,000
3 Iran 80,500
4 US 73,440
5 Russia 69,760
6 India 63,700
7 Ukraine 59,300
8 Mexico 55, 400
9 Argentina 51,370
10 Ethiopia 47,700

Source: Statista 2020, figures in metric tons

Globally 1,779.6 metric tons of honey is produced. China produces almost 28% of world’s honey, followed by Turkey (5.9%), Iran (4.5%) and US (4.1%). India is the 6th largest producer of honey, accounting for 3.5% of global honey production.

In terms of per capita honey consumption per day, Central African Republic tops the list with 9.62 grams consumed per day, followed by New Zealand and Slovenia.

Top consumers of honey in the world

Rank Country Daily grams of honey consumed per capita
1 Central African Republic 9.62
2 New Zealand 5.55
3 Slovenia 4.4
4 Greece 4.24
5 Switzerland 3.87
6 Austria 3.62
7 Turkey 3.33
8 Ukraine 3.15
9 Slovakia 3.02
10 Montenegro 3.01

Source: FAO

In India’s case, the per capita honey consumption is as low as 50 grams per year; globally, it ranges from 250-300 gms. In Asia, Japan is the biggest consumer of honey, with per capita consumption of up to 2 pounds per year.

Non-Tariff Measures (NTMs) applied in honey

The Codex Alimentarius Commission has laid down 15 parameters relating to standards for honey. For example, the moisture content in honey (except heather honey) should not be more than 20%. Sucrose content, which is also an indication of adulteration, should not be more than 5 g per 100 g of honey (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development – ICIMOD, 2012).

Developed regions like EU and US generally implement stricter NTMs than CODEX. Similarly in the case of honey, their NTMs seems stricter than CODEX safety guidelines. For example, no maximum residue levels (MRLs) for antibiotics in honey have been given by the EU, which means the EU does not allow the use of antibiotics for treatment of honey bees.

But EU member states do import honey, and for regulating residues in honey, the EU has set provisional MRLs of 25 ppb for oxytetracycline, 0.3 ppb for chloramphenicol, and 1.0 ppb for nitrofurans. This is a clear digression of EU’s NTMs implemented in honey.

India’s honey trade

During the last decade, India’s exports of honey proliferated from US$ 56.2 million to US$ 100.8 million, experiencing a growth rate of 6.5% per annum, higher than the world’s exports growth. Additionally, imports are almost negligible at US$ 1.9 million in 2019. For the said time period, imports grew at -1.2% per annum, making India one of the top net exporting economies of honey. Major export destination of Indian honey include US, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

India, honey export trends

Source: ITC Trade map, 2020, figures in US$ million

The Indian Government provides various incentives for beekeeping development and for promoting the export of honey, and set up the National Beekeeping Board (NBB). The Khadi and Village Industry Commission is another official organisation with centres throughout India that is engaged in research, training, and extension in beekeeping. Ministry of Commerce and Industry gives several incentives, which include feasibility studies and surveys, export promotion and market development, packaging development, assistance for promoting quality and quality control, and R&D. KVIC has different schemes for the promotion of beekeeping, including beekeeping training at various levels.

Roadmap to a sweeter honey trade

Last year, the National Beekeeping and Honey Mission’s (NBHM) operational guidelines were released, which aimed to strengthen our honey production and export capacity. In a similar direction, attempts are being made by NBB to collaborate with international agencies like FAO, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, along with various countries, which have developed modern/ latest technologies in beekeeping sector.

Under collaborative programmes, activities that are planned to be undertaken would include import of technologies/ equipment/ machineries, hiring of international domain experts, organizing foreign exposure visits/study tours, training programmes, etc. of the concerned officials, farmers/ beekeepers etc. Major hindrance faced by Indian honey exporters is price volatility, which makes premium Indian honey expensive. With these initiatives, India expects to achieve price competitiveness.

As per the Bibek Debroy-led beekeeping development committee report released last year, India has a potential of about 200 million bee colonies as against 3.4 million bee colonies today. Increasing the number of bee colonies will not only increase the production of bee-related products but will boost overall agricultural and horticultural productivity. It is expected that, due to medicinal properties of honey, its demand over next couple of years is expected to shoot swiftly, therefore it is crucial for Indian honey exporters to accelerate their production capacity so that they can tap this opportunity.

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