Mānuka honey, an almost mythical superfood with countless health benefits. A product deeply intertwined with New Zealand provenance and the perfection of nature, which also happens to taste delicious. While Mānuka honey is now a multi-million dollar export earner, it was a long journey to get there, with a history as rich and intriguing as the amber nectar itself.
The story began 1839 when the delightfully named Mary Bumby achieved the seemingly impossible feat of transporting two hives of the common honey bee Apis mellifera from Britain to New Zealand. Mary was accompanying her missionary brother John to New Zealand to act as his housekeeper, and knowing John’s love of honey she decided to bring some bees along on the six month long sea voyage.
This story is especially remarkable when you consider the crude woven hives or “skeps” she used to transport her precious cargo were extremely hard to keep bees alive on land, let alone the open ocean. Mary, John and the bees settled on the shores of the Hokianga harbour, and bees being bees, they went out collecting pollen from the native trees, including scrubby, hardy Mānuka which was prized by local Māori for its health benefits.
As the bees multiplied and created new colonies, local honey was cultivated and enjoyed, however the colonists' tastes leaned towards wildflower blends and Mānuka was largely ignored. So while there’s a good chance the first honey harvested in New Zealand was of the Mānuka variety, it would take almost 200 years before Mānuka honey became the coveted product of today.
A breakthrough came in the 1980s when biochemist Dr. Peter Molan confirmed the antibacterial properties unique to the nectar sourced from Mānuka flowers. Domestic demand increased dramatically and the National Beekeepers’ Association of New Zealand had the genius idea of setting up a certification for the “Unique Mānuka Factor” or UMF. This effectively created a standard measure for Mānuka honey and a handy trademark for a product which had started to whip up a buzz in the global alternative health and wellness market.
Fast forward almost two centuries from Mary and her pioneering hives and a helicopter hovers low over a pristine tract of New Zealand backcountry
A bloke named Jim surveys a sea of flowering manuka trees and the tiny seed of an idea takes hold. Jim’s idea became The True Honey Co, his vision was for a brand which could be engaging and truly believed in, a ‘next generation’ Mānuka honey brand disrupting an industry rife with design cliches and mediocrity.
When Marx Design was approached to develop the TTHC brand we saw the project as a chance to create innovative work which connected packaging and brand. TTHC’s premium honey would only be available to purchase online, an opportunity for the packaging to become a physical brand canvas for customers. We imagined the pack as a vessel to showcase the TTHC values of looking after both the land and people, with the rich product experience enhanced by bespoke packaging.
Understanding the high UMF ratings were an indicator of transparency and honesty, we elevated them to hero status on the packaging. Working with Think Packaging, we developed a distinctive “wedge” case to ship the precious honey without the need for bubble wrap, foam filler or petrochemicals. The finished product is rich with fine detailing, every element laboured over including foil on black stock and a textured finish on the labels. Clean, modern typography highlights the pride in the honey in a bold, yet humble manner.
We engaged US illustrator Christopher DeLorenzo to create a series of hand drawn illustrations to outline a set of promises to the consumer, his signature graphic style added a contemporary feel to help the product stand out in the generic honey world.
To launch the brand into the NZ market we developed a bespoke stand at the Auckland Food show, along with a slightly satirical 16 page publication we named “The Truth” to further communicate the TTHC values to customers. We also created a range of promotional items for launch, ranging from beautiful flowering Mānuka plants to aprons and tote bags featuring key images and slogans.
After a successful launch TTHC were fortunate enough to experience a once in a lifetime honey phenomenon known as a rare harvest, in 2017. Similar to how a stressed grapevine can lead to an exceptional vintage, challenging weather conditions caused a windswept block of Mānuka to produce an especially potent nectar or rare harvest. The batch of honey was certified at an unprecedented 1,700+ MGO (31+UMF), the highest rated Mānuka honey to ever be recorded.
With extremely limited quantities, again similar to a wine vintage, the honey harvest was strictly limited to 1000 hand numbered and signed jars, destined for exclusive grocery stores with a premium price tag.
Building on the “wedge” packaging of the core TTHC range, we enlisted master bookbinders to craft a bespoke box inspired by an unfolding Mānuka flower, each individual petal locking together magnetically when enclosed.
Along with creating a sublime “unboxing” experience, the Rare Harvest packaging also serves as a display unit for the jar and honey drizzler included. Topped off with a lid handmade from sustainably sourced rimu heart and you have an extremely luxurious package which more than befitts the precious golden elixir inside. The box is sealed with a highly finished textured paper wrap and a hand signed tamper proof sticker.
TTHC certainly managed to realise their vision of bringing great design and a passion for local provenance to the manuka honey game. From our perspective, being given almost unlimited scope to push things further and truly innovate in both packaging design and brand thinking led to a very fulfilling partnership. Thanks to Mary and her well behaved bees for getting the buzz going.
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