A honey of a solution for Taupo exporter

To manage the complex quality control standards for exporting manuka honey, Cosana chose Abel® ERP to provide the traceability, flexibility and ease of use they needed to meet growing demand and optimize efficiency.

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To manage the complex quality control standards for exporting manuka honey, Cosana chose Abel® to provide the traceability, flexibility and ease of use they needed to meet growing demand and optimize efficiency.

It’s often called liquid gold. Sourced in New Zealand from the scarce flowers of the native manuka bush, manuka honey contains unique health properties that have created a huge global demand and prices as high as $5,000 a jar.

Chris Bowman understands the value of manuka honey better than most. As the innovative leader of several honey exporting companies since 2009, he has worked hard to improve honey-processing standards and promote a booming New Zealand industry that generates $400 million a year in exports.

This sweet success has also spawned plenty of counterfeit products, making it more incumbent on the industry to assure customers they’re buying genuine manuka honey.

“It’s critical to our export reputation to keep producing high-quality honey products that consumers know are safe and authentic,” says Chris, who is also a member of Apiculture New Zealand’s standards and compliance group. “We now have the rigorous industry standards and mandatory testing in place to back that up.”

Chris joined Cosana as Chief Executive and part-owner in 2021, with a focus on streamlining the manufacturing and quality control of Cosana’s products: from pure manuka honey and multifloral blends to propolis tinctures, royal jelly, lozenges and lip balm.

The first step was to create a purpose-built factory to process up to 300 tonnes of honey a year. The new high-tech complex, overlooking Lake Taupo, now provides Cosana with a one-stop facility to produce, package and export products to customers around the world.

The next step, Chris says, was to find an integrated system to automate and control their supply chain, quality certification and production processes; and deliver real-time traceability of their supply chain, from the drums of bulk honey to the despatch of packaged products.

Choosing Abel, Chris says, was an easy decision.

“I wouldn’t work with anyone else. I’ve used Abel for the last twelve years at three different companies.

Everything starts with the bees whose honey Cosana sources from the hives of about 25 independent beekeepers from Kaitaia to Bluff.  Every drum of honey procured is registered in Abel with a unique batch code, and independently tested up to 10 times during various production processes for toxins, chemical markers and manuka DNA.

Each test result is recorded in Abel, including the measurement methylglyoxal (MGO) – the vital ingredient in manuka honey responsible for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Depending on test results, some batches of honey might need to be re-graded to a different inventory code over time, where revaluing also needs to take place.

Accurate MGO levels are critical, Chris says, because manuka honey ages like wine: the higher the MGO level, the greater the therapeutic value and the higher the price it commands. For example, Cosana’s 250g containers of honey vary in price from $6 to $180 depending on their lab-certified level of MGO, which is clearly marked on every label of honey.

“From margins to marketing, our business can’t afford to get this wrong,” Chris says. “Abel understood that and developed a function so that, after a test, we can quickly re-grade a drum to another inventory code with a different price. No other ERP could do this. It’s a valuable tool that replaces time-consuming and error-prone manual tasks like spreadsheets”.

“Automating price adjustments is a true testament to Abel’s flexibility and collaboration to find seamless solutions for critical business issues and industry challenges.”

Chris says this includes a suite of integrated software solutions from Abel Associates, like automated accounts payable system PlusOne from Acume that has simplified Cosana’s invoicing process. “It saves us time and gives me the real-time data I need to manage our cashflow.”

Another key advantage to Abel is ease of use. Chris says the Taupo team has taken an instant liking to Abel, whether they’re using barcode scanners and touchscreens on the factory floor, PCs in the office or a tablet at home.

“Even with a team of rocket scientists, you won’t realise the full value of a system if staff find it hard to use,” he says. “Abel simplifies our workflow so tasks like stock takes, honey grading and tracking despatched goods can be done quickly and confidently by our team.

“Abel is so easy to use that our chartered accountant used it to access documents and data for our year-end accounts, cutting his time and his fees in half.”

By all accounts, Cosana is just getting started. A year after launching the Taupo plant, Chris says they’re making plans to increase production and add new products to Cosana’s range.

“Without a doubt, we know Abel has all the flexibility and functionality we need to grow and succeed, as well as the support and innovation we might need along the way. The rest is up to us.”

(Read more about Chris Bowman’s history with Abel in this earlier case study.)