Kai Ora Honey is a Māori family-owned business founded by descendants of Ngāti Kurī and Te Rarawa iwi (tribes) in Te Tai Tokerau (Far North) New Zealand. With generations of bee-keeping knowledge, the enterprise sustainably harvests and extracts natural properties from New Zealand’s Nātive Forest to produce a range of wellness products. Over the last decade, Kai Ora Honey has increasingly relied on digital technologies to reach more customers, increase profits and enter new foreign markets.
Blanche Morrogh is one of six siblings who started the Kai Ora Honey business after the death of their father. She now leads the company as CEO and aims to build upon the vision of her late grandmother Saana Waitai Murray and father Rapine Murray to maximize the inclusion of heritage, culture, social, environmental and economic influences in every aspect of the business.
Māori are the tangata whenua (the Indigenous people) of New Zealand, whose ancestors sailed from East Polynesia more than 1000 years ago to arrive in mainland Aotearoa. Today,16.5 percent of New Zealanders identify as Māori.
From an initial 20 hives, the family business now operates 2,000 beehives to produce some of New Zealand’s highest active Mānuka honey, known within the Māori community for it’s health and healing properties.
“Our mission has always been to share the gift of Mānuka honey, but now it’s sharing the gift of Mānuka with the world,” Blanche explained.
The business ships its collection of Mānuka honey and other natural and organic handmade skincare products to customers in New Zealand, Australia, Romania, Hong Kong, Japan, and other new markets, including the United States.
Blanche noted that they “use social media as one of our main platforms” to connect with new markets. “Social media is actually how we started talking to our new distributor in Houston, Texas,” she said.
The team at Kai Ora Honey uses a collection of social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and most recently TikTok, to expand their reach and share knowledge about their culture and products.
“From a business perspective, it’s very important to us that our culture is represented and embodied in everything that we do, from our name to our branding. The way that it looks, the way that it feels, when people get to experience New Zealand from a Māori perspective they are experiencing it authentically,” she noted.
The family behind Kai Ora Honey come from a long line of farmers, with 16 years in the honey industry. In 2008, they felt the demand for their honey grow and were presented with an opportunity to work with their first international market.
“Entering the market in Japan was what really kicked us off. They’ve been our fastest growing country ever since in the nine years that we’ve been working with them. And it just really spiraled out of control from there,” she explains.
In addition to entering new markets, in recent years Kai Ora Honey has been focused on research and development (R&D) around the medicinal properties of Mānuka. Blanche notes that the plant stems have intrinsically been part of Māori lives for generations.
“We are moving into the R&D space and developing new products to continue strengthening the export channels that we’ve developed over the last 16 years,” she shared.
Digital tools such as social media and e-commerce platforms allow the business to expand their reach and share knowledge about Māori culture globally.
“We use Facebook to build our community and help people understand our products, understand our business and get to know who we are — the people behind the brand,” Blanche said. “For us, Instagram is about building brand recognition and having a way for people to quickly come and see us and give us a quick order. And then if they want to know more, they usually go to our Facebook page.”
“We are always sharing stories that are happening around us, not just things about honey. It’s really about building a community here in Northland, in New Zealand, and with the rest of the world.”
As a business based in a small rural area, Blanche notes one of the biggest challenges is digital infrastructure. She observed that only recently, after years of pursuing funding and support has the region started to receive assistance to build digital capacity. “The hardest part is that people don’t realize the amount of time, effort and money it takes to translate into one customer,” she shared. “Working with governments to get funding for digital skills and capacity building has been a huge obstacle and it’s probably the same challenge that all businesses in rural areas are dealing with.”
Blanche is currently participating in an APEC pilot project, “Growing Indigenous Businesses Through Trade (GrIT),” to help First Nations businesses enhance their capacity to trade. The initiative, funded by the Australian Government, focuses on practical elements of trading across borders, including regulations, cross-border finance and logistics, and market localization.
Blanche urges more governments to consider similar, more widely available training programs in addition to funding opportunities.