When Trader Joe's came out with their "UMF 10" manuka honey product at an unusually affordable price, it understandably became quite popular.
Here was this extremely rare and expensive honey from New Zealand, which can cost hundreds of dollars a jar, and now it was available little more than regular table honey.
Amazing! Trader Joe's had done it again!
Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple.
Who is Trader Joe's?
Trader Joe's is a specialty food store that offers quality foods at reasonable prices.
I'm sure you're all familiar with them, and have probably shopped there in the past.
However, when they released a manuka honey product at a low price point, news got to New Zealand and people were scratching their head.
Especially when their jar said "UMF 10", a grading given only by the UMF Association in New Zealand.
How is Trader Joe's selling UMF 10 graded honey for so cheap?
That's where the controversy started.
Trader Joe's Manuka Honey Controversy
It wasn't so much that Trader Joe's was selling manuka honey, but the fact they were selling it as UMF graded honey.
The short explanation is - The Manuka Honey industry is riddled with fakes, as it's such an expensive and sought after honey, and wherever money is involved, fakes are involved.
To combat fake manuka products, New Zealand set up the UMF Association, which grades manuka honey products on a "Unique Manuka Factor". It's a very involved process that tests for five different attributes before grading a manuka honey product as authentic.
Most importantly, it tests the honey for levels of NPA (non-peroxide activity) and a special compound known as methyglyoxal, or MGO, which gives manuka honey its powerful antibacterial properties.
You can read more about this process here.
What you need to know is this:
- Not all manuka honey is created equal
- Not all manuka honey has antibacterial properties
- Just because a jar says "manuka honey" doesn't mean it's real manuka honey from New Zealand
- To use "UMF" on your label, you need to be graded and approved by the UMF Association of New Zealand
Now, let's take a look at the Trader Joe's Manuka Honey:
You can see very clearly it says UMF 10+ on the jar, and claims to be 100% New Zealand Manuka Honey.
Those are two very big claims, because:
- To be UMF 10+ you would need to be independently graded by the UMF Association in New Zealand.
- It is extremely difficult to have a 100% manuka honey. Practically all manuka honey is likely to be mixed with other nectars, as it's practically impossible to know if your bees have only collected nectar from manuka flowers. Bees can fly up to 3 miles while collecting nectar, pollenating all kinds of flowers.
Obviously, neither of these claims turned out to be true.
Once Trader Joe's became aware of the situation, they shared the following:
"When we first introduced our Trader Joe’s Manuka Honey, we were told by the producer that using the registered UMF mark and a UMF 10 rating was appropriate and our label reflected that. We subsequently learned of requirements from the association managing the mark (an outside third-party certification source) that did not fit our business and we therefore have since removed the UMF mark from our labeling. The primary reason is that bearing the mark would stand to increase the cost of the product. However, please note that neither the source nor the quality of the honey has changed."
Trader Joe's then changed their labelling slightly, to the following:
To be honest, we still consider this quite misleading.
Firstly, what does 10+ mean? It doesn't mean anything, however, it does make it look like the honey has been graded, and a less-informed customer might simply assume that means UMF 10+, as that's what is seen on other graded manuka honey jars.
Secondly, it still says 100% New Zealand Manuka Honey. Since the honey has not been graded, it's unlikely the honey has actually been tested and confirmed as a 100% monofloral manuka honey.
The Trader Joe's Manuka Honey Lawsuit
Unsurprisingly, a lawsuit was borne out of all this in 2018. There was a class action lawsuit against Trader Joe's for claiming the honey was "100% manuka honey" when it was very unlikely to be.
The honey was eventually tested and was found to be "only 57.3% to 62.6% derived from manuka plants".
The case was eventually dismissed, as the judge ruled the FDA allows honey to be sold under the name of its primary flower source.
has trader joe's manuka honey been discontinued?
Interestingly (probably due to the lawsuit, and the risk of further lawsuits) you can no longer find this particular product at Trader Joe's stores - it has now been replaced with this:
Notice how this product does not have a 10+ or any other number, and does not use the words manuka honey.
This is probably because the backlash Trader Joe's received for making their manuka honey look like a UMF 10 monofloral manuka honey, which would be almost impossible considering the price they were selling it at.
Now they simply sell "multi-flora New Zealand honey", which basically means honey from New Zealand from a combination of nectars, or in other words, just a basic table honey from New Zealand.
However, the "10+ Trader Joe's 100% New Zealand Manuka Honey" is still floating around, especially on places like Amazon.
If you do come across it, at least you now know it's not quite what it looks like!
should you buy trader joe's manuka honey?
To be honest, we can't say for sure whether or not the Trader Joe's Manuka Honey is a "bad" or "fake" honey.
The tests during the class-action lawsuit showed it's made from about 60% manuka nectar, which shows that it does indeed have some "real" manuka honey content.
However, what we can say with confidence is, it has not been UMF certified, and has not been tested for MGO or NPA levels, which is what gives manuka honey its antibacterial properties.
Remember - not all manuka honey has MGO content, which is primarily what it is sought out for.
Therefore, if you are looking for a genuine manuka honey, we would avoid buying Trader Joe's branded honey and instead choose one of the many high quality honeys we've reviewed which are all listed here.
The reality is, there are now some pretty high quality products around UMF 10 or UMF 15 which won't break your bank account, so there's no need to buy "might be good" manuka honey like Trader Joe's.
Is trader joe's manuka honey real?
There is no way for us to know for certain whether each jar of Trader Joe's is "real" manuka honey. However, we can be reasonably sure it is not UMF 10+ monofloral manuka honey like it states on the jar. Trader Joe's has also admitted they mislabelled the product without knowing the UMF requirements, and now the jar simply says "10+".
Is trader joe's manuka honey good value?
If you would like a good value manuka honey, we don't recommend purchasing Trader Joe's as it hasn't been authenticated as genuine manuka honey from New Zealand. A good budget product we would recommend is the NZ Honey Co. UMF 10+ product.
How much is Trader Joe's Manuka Honey?
When it was being sold in-store, Trader Joe's 10+ Manuka Honey was selling for approximately $10 per jar.
Can you still buy Trader Joe's Manuka Honey?
As far as we know, the product has been discontinued. You may still find it at some other stores or places online like Amazon or eBay.