Up until the economic crisis in 2008, the honey sector in the UK experienced a premiumisation. Higher incomes, increased interest in nutrition and media attention, such as cooking programmes on television, aroused the interest of a relatively large group of consumers in honeys with distinctive properties.The UK is the main market in the European community for the consumption of honey with 10% of total EU consumption. The product assortments of nearly all major brands contain organic honey.
The annual honey consumption amounts to over 36,000 tons, equal to a per capita consumption of 590 grammes. Regular consumption of honey has increased from year to year.In the UK there are 40,000 beekeepers with 200,000 bee colonies, of which about 300 are large-scale beekeepers, each handling 40,000 colonies of bees; the remainder consists of small beekeepers.
British production cannot meet domestic demand, and the UK is a major importer. In fact, British imports account for 13% of the total imports of the European community.
The main suppliers are China with 218 293 tonnes and a market share of 56.96% in 2014, Mexico with 29.396 tonnes and a market share of 7.67% and New Zealand with a quantity of 25,714 tonnes and a market share of 6.71%. In the past decade, importers in the UK experienced many quality problems with Chinese honey. Adulteration and contamination were frequent These problems led to the EU-wide ban on Chinese honey between 2002 and 2004. After 2004, importers in the UK remained reluctant to import honey from China. However, since 2009, importers are picking up trade with Chinese honey exporters again. Although the revival of honey trade between the UK and China threatens suppliers of low-priced honey, the trade in other price segments will not be affected.
Importers of table honeys are the most interesting trade channels for exporters of honey to the United Kingdom. Several importers have specialised in sourcing honey in developing countries. They focus primarily on Fair Trade products and other niche products. The conventional importers primarily import low-priced honey from countries like China and Argentina, but also source in other EU countries.
Similar to other EU markets, speciality shops, such as health food shops, Fair Trade shops and delicatessen shops, account for a small share of the total UK honey market. Nonetheless, these retailers still offer a significant market. Most of them are small chains or independent shops and mainly supply niche products, such as organic, monofloral and local honeys.