by Digby Hildreth
THE technology investor EVE has invested $1.49 million into an Alstonville producer of essential oils, with the aim of seeing it diversify into medicinal cannabis and melaleuca honeys.
The ASX-listed EVE Investments has acquired a 50% interest in the Jenbrook group, which harvests and distils tea tree oil from two large plantations of the native melaleuca tree in the Northern Rivers.
Jenbrook's contract manufacturing business, EcoBotanicals, produces organic and Therapeutic Goods Association-approved oils and cosmetics for its contract manufacturing clients, which include related companies, selling them into the US through its marketing and wholesale distribution business, Naturally Aust Product Inc.
The potential expansion into medicinal honeys had been spurred by an upsurge of inquiry from the US, said Ben Rohr, EVE's investments director. Both honeys would be initially developed for the export market.
He describes Jenbrook's long-term owner Bryan Easson as an "innovative farmer".
EVE's commitment to Jenbrook was based upon three main factors, he said.
First is the fact it has two organic tea tree plantations in the Bungawalbyn Valley Basin, south of Coraki on the Richmond River, a region designated as the "origin of the tea tree species".
Robyndale Farm is a 400ha organic farmed plantation that supplies raw tea tree oil and extracts, which are then sold into the US, and supplies organic tea tree oils to third party international customers.
The other site is Jendale Farm, a 478ha natural growth - or "wildcraft" - tea tree plantation that produces a high potency tea tree oil.
The raw materials from this plantation are used in conjunction with a patented extraction technique that accelerates the aging process of the oil to produce concentrated multiple active therapeutic compounds.
Almost all of Jendale's oil is sold to Naturally Aust Product Inc.
Second was the fact that Jenbrook's facility was TGA compliant, which had a high intrinsic value, having undergone a three-year certification process, Mr Rohr said.
And third, Jenbrook owns a patented extraction technique utilised to produce its high potency tea tree oil, which derives a vastly greater volume of oil than typical extraction processes and of an equally high potency (3.5-4.5 litres of extract compared with 8-9g from 1kg of aged tea tree leaf).
The acquisition is based on expectation of a "unique and exciting product expansion, with confirmed US customer demand for two new product opportunities", Mr Rohr said.
One is a premium medicinal cannabis honey produced by bees pollinating on hemp or medicinal cannabis plant nectar.
The second is melaleuca honey, an antibacterial honey produced by bees pollinating on melaleuca tea trees.
The latter is likely to be marketed under the trading name of Meluka honey - a blend of the names melaleuca and manuka, the Maori name for the tree in New Zealand.
Manuka honey is produced in Australia and New Zealand and is sold at a premium price as an alternative medicine.
The honey has antibacterial properties that are scientifically proven to help a range of conditions, from healing sore throats and digestive illnesses, to curing staph infections and gingivitis.
The manuka honey market is currently dominated by New Zealand producers, with global import demand estimated to be about US$2.1b in 2015.
Jenbrook is currently validating the production process for its melaleuca honey, which it expects to be shown to be show superior antibacterial properties to manuka honey, and is exploring the opportunity to develop the medicinal cannabis honey.
The expansion of its product range from essential oils, extracts, carrier oils and hydrosols will be facilitated by a new partnership agreement with Wayne Fuller, principal of Honey Services Pty Ltd.