A Kiwi company selling bee pollen capsules says demand has skyrocketed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
NatureBee NZ sells potentiated bee pollen capsules rich in vitamins and micronutrients sourced through a process that is "100 percent natural".
Keren Cook, NatureBee's global consumer advocate, calls the pollen "nature's gold" and credits the product's popularity with the fact "consumers are really starting to take ownership around their health" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pollen's growing popularity comes as Bee Aware Month kicks off, with the apiculture community and councils around the country hoping to raise the awareness of the critical roles bees play for both the environment and the economy.
Cook says demand for pollen has increased steadily in the past 12 months but has really ramped up since the outbreak of coronavirus.
"It builds immunity," Cook told Newshub on Tuesday. "That's obviously been one of the key drivers during this strange year of 2020."
She says although the collection process of pollen is time-consuming, it's "100 percent natural".
Beekeeper Alistair McLean, who supplies pollen to the company, says the process is environmentally responsible and cruelty-free.
"The pollen-collecting process happens before the bees enter the hive," he says.
"The pollen is collected from a small drawer with a slot; the bees go into their hive through the slot, and as they do, some of the pollen falls from their legs into a tray, leaving plenty of pollen on their legs to take into the hive. No bees are killed, harmed or injured in the process."
He says around five to 10 kilograms of pollen is produced per hive each season.
Once the pollen is collected, it is potentiated, making it easier to digest, says Cook.
"It's got a hard outer cell, a little bit like a walnut...and essentially potentiation breaks that outer cell wall down."
"So it's not just a case of getting the pollen from the beekeeper and putting raw pollen into capsules, we actually put it through that potentiation process, which takes a little time."
NatureBee says all pollen sold in New Zealand is currently sourced locally, from its hives in the South Island, while all international orders receive "high quality imported Chinese pollen".
In 2017, the company was fined more than $500,000 by the Commerce Commission for claiming its pollen was New Zealand-made, when in fact it was produced and processed in China.
Cook says the company "cooperated fully" with the Commission during its investigation and "took action to correct the references to country of origin in 2015".
"The company has always met, and continues to meet, all regulatory and quality testing requirements and is confident in the quality of its potentiated pollen products."