All I know @kaihoka was that pre Manuka we got sweet FA for our honey and most beekeepers were into pollination.
My dad built his business off the back of the kiwifruit boom.
when pollination was done the hives went into honey areas but the honey wasn’t harvested it was winter feed.
When I think of the major players in our area the vast majority have been in the industry since before the Manuka boom.
From memory Nelson Honey was the only player who was big enough to hire a lot of staff both full time and seasonal most of the others were smaller owner operated businesses who hired temporary staff to help with shifting hives in and out of pollination and helping with the honey harvest.
In the early stages of the boom it was only Manuka honey that was fetching higher prices and Manuka was identified by pollen analysis, taste, colour and how thixotropic it was.
Non Manuka continued to be sold for low prices it wasn’t used for blending.
Those major players pretty much all increased the size of their businesses during the Manuka boom, increasing hive numbers, hiring more staff, upgrading vehicles and plant.
Before Manuka there weren’t a lot of honey buyers.
We sold to Airborne and Nelson Honey, prices we got ranged from just over $2kg to just over $3 kg.
The payment terms were generally by instalment over an 8 month period sometimes a payment was missed because they didn’t have the money and they would look after their big suppliers first.
The honey industry right now looks to be going back to the pre Manuka days so pressure is on all areas where there may be a sniff of Manuka honey.
Although even producing a crop of MPI standard Manuka honey doesn’t guarantee a sale.
long story short is no I don’t think imported honey back in the day would have sent many beekeepers to the wall