US honey consumption soars to all-time high amid better-for-you trend

Dive Brief:

  • U.S. honey consumption reached a new record of 618 million pounds in 2021, up 8% from the previous year and topping the previous high of 596 million pounds four years earlier, according to the USDA.
  • At the same time, U.S. honey production last year totaled 126 million pounds, down 14% from 2020 and the lowest since 1991, mostly due to lower yield per colony, the government found.
  • The surge in honey demand comes as the sweetener has benefited from its association as a natural ingredient, along with its perception as a healthier sugar substitute rich in antioxidants that also may help lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure.

Dive Insight:

As consumers keep a closer watch on what they eat and drink, it stands to reason that ingredients like honey with a better-for-you halo are going to see demand swell.

Honey consumption as recently as 2010 was just above 1.25 pounds per capita, but since then it has trended upward — posting solid growth in 2020 and 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic provided an impetus for healthier eating for more people. Last year, the average person consumed more than 1.75 pounds of the sweetener, the USDA report showed.

With demand skyrocketing, the U.S. has had to look elsewhere for honey. The gap has been bridged through imports that accounted for nearly three-quarters of total U.S. honey supplies in 2021, up from 27% in 1991.

Due to its rising popularity, some food companies have been looking for ways to incorporate it into more of their products.

Unilever, for example, has a Hellmann’s ketchup sweetened only with honey. And Clif Bar & Company, which is being acquired by Mondelēz International, has an offering with peanut butter and organic honey. Other brands like Kind and Häagen‐Dazs have pledged to source some of their ingredients exclusively from bee-friendly farms or ensure that they were harvested in a way that was favorable to the insect.

Bees have been disappearing at an alarming rate due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. Other environmental factors such as climate change and the application of pesticides, meant for other, less helpful insects, have also impacted the pollinators.

If honey consumption continues to rise as expected while supply struggles to keep pace, it could provide additional momentum for making the product in more sustainable ways without bees. 

MeliBio, which raised $5.7 million in March to fund its growth, is among the upstarts looking to make honey in the lab. The California-based food tech company uses plant science and precision fermentation — a process using nature and natural organisms, like yeast, as factories for growing ingredients  — to produce its honey.