A new study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has put the honey market and the intense competition in the limelight.
While Dabur holds a larger market share in the honey market, there are other competitors such as Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari and Apis Himalaya, with Marico’s Saffola being the latest entrant in the honey space.
According to market research company IMARC, the honey market in India was worth Rs 17.3 billion in 2019.
This is not the first time this kind of allegation has come to the forefront.
In 2016, Emami entered the honey market. Emami sells honey under its Zandu brand, and way back in 2016 had complained to Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) against Dabur’s print and TV ads that claimed Dabur Honey met EU standards and ranked No. 1 honey in India in terms of purity and quality by Consumer Voice, a New Delhi-based NGO.
In response to that, Dabur slammed Emami’s honey campaigns that said, “…your honey contains up to 30 percent added sugar.”
The natural honey is in the news again. The CSE food researchers took 13 bigger and smaller brands of processed and raw honey that are sold in India to check their purity.
The study found that 77 percent of the honey samples were adulterated with sugar syrup. Out of the 22 samples checked, only three passed all the tests.
Only 3 out of the 13 brands -Marico’s Saffola, MarkfedSohna and Nature's Nectar (one out of two samples) -- passed all the tests.
"Every batch of Saffola Honey is tested using NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) technology, which is one of the most advanced tests in the world, in the best in class laboratories to ensure that it is 100 percent pure, free from added sugars and free from any form of adulteration.," Marico spokesperson told Moneycontrol.
As per the CSE study, honey, which is a natural product from bees, is mixed with sugar syrup acquired from rice, corn, beetroot, and sugarcane and sold as pure honey.
"Honey samples from leading brands such as Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari and Apis Himalaya, all failed the NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) test," the study from CSE showed.
Brand experts claim that it is high time adulteration in honey is surfaced. “Sadly sugar is a standard adulterant in honey. This is not new. Has been a disease for decades. Time for it to come to roost,” said Harish Bijoor, Brand guru and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
“It is important to remember that honey is bee-made. Adding sugar syrup to it is destroying everything that is good about bee-made honey,” he added.
Echoing Bijoor’s view, N. Chandramouli, CEO of TRA Research, a consumer analytics and brand insights company, added that every honey buyer looks for a trusted brand and if honey companies are adding sugar then they are doing harm rather than good.
Gaurav Marathe, the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Lincoln International Advisors Pvt Ltd, has dealt with a slew of honey aggregators or distributors in the past. Marathe said, “This controversy could have sparked off because most companies usually procure honey from aggregators (distributors) or processors and not directly from bee-keepers.”
This means the adulteration could have been done from the distributor or processor’s end.
In India, honey is widely used because of its several health benefits. Honey helps in strengthening the immune system, weight management, home remedy for cough, boosts memory, in gum diseases among several other benefits.
After the CSE study, several honey companies that sell honey issued a statement giving clarification.
Dabur refused the allegation. The company in a statement said, “We assure our consumers that Dabur Honey is 100 percent Pure. It is 100 percent indigenous, collected naturally from Indian sources and packed with no added sugar or other adulterants. We also assure our consumers that Dabur does not import any Honey/syrup from China and our Honey is sourced entirely from Indian beekeepers.
“Dabur is complying with the 22 parameters mandated by FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) for testing Honey. In addition, Dabur Honey is also tested for the presence of antibiotics, as mandated by FSSAI. Further, Dabur is the only company in India to have an NMR testing equipment in our own laboratory, and the same is used to regularly test our Honey being sold in the Indian market. This is to ensure that Dabur Honey is 100 percent pure without any adulteration,” the statement added.
Dabur also shared a copy of an NMR test report from Germany that stated that Dabur honey has passed the test.
Emami spokesperson said that its Zandu Pure Honey conforms and adheres to all the protocols and quality norms/standards laid down by the Government of India and its authorised entities such as FSSAI.
In a bid to cater to higher demand, Marico launched Saffola Pure Honey in June.
There are two types honey; pure honey and organic honey. Pure honey may come from bees-fed sugar solution and it may be pasteurised, filtered and contain chemicals and antibiotics, while organic honey is free from chemicals and antibiotics.
Organic honey is also extracted from beehives that are situated in natural locations and the owners have to meet a set of standards that include bees’ management, a proper extraction process and regulated processing temperature.