The Moodie Interview: How Andrey Zubko and Biosota Organics are making a beeline for travel retail


    Prologue: Move over XO Cognac and high-end Scotch whisky, there’s a new ultra-premium contender coming to the world’s duty-free shelves.

    Meet the remarkable Andrey Zubko, together with his wife Oxana the proprietor of Biosota Organics, an Australian company specialising in MGO 2100+ and other Manuka honey variations. In the apiculture world, Manuka honey MGO 2100+ is the liquid gold standard and Andrey believes such ultra-premium positioning is ideally suited to the travel retail channel.

    Born in the former Soviet Union but sent by his parents to Australia in 1995, Andrey quickly proved a natural-born entrepreneur. Having identified business opportunities as a 15-year-old boarding school student in Sydney, he soon established an export company to his homeland. His subsequent business experiences combined with a personal passion for apiculture ultimately led to the creation of Biosota Organics in 2016.

    On the eve of the TFWA World Exhibition in Singapore (12-16 May) where the company is exhibiting, The Moodie Davitt Report Founder & Chairman Martin Moodie spoke with Andrey Zubko about his remarkable life and business story, one he aptly sums up through the famed words of Chinese writer and philosopher Lao Tzu (Laozi) – ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step’.

    MGO 2100 Australian Manuka Honey
    MGO 2100+ is the world’s highest MGO honey. It retails for A$1,033 (US$680) through Biosota’s online store.


    Martin Moodie: Andrey, tell us about your early days before your move to Australia.

    Andrey Zubko:  I was born in the city of Vladivostok in the former Soviet Union, the farthest eastern city in Russia. In fact, Moscow is more than six times further away than Tokyo.

    The Russia of my youth bears minimal semblance to the country today. Russia, and preceding that the Soviet Union, was generally an agro-economic country with an element of heavy industry. Naturally, given the geopolitical tensions of the Cold War, the military-industrial complex (to cite former US President Eisenhower) was also prevalent throughout society and the economy.

    I was brought up in an era where goods and services were limited due to the policy of centralised control of the economy. This discouraged wealth creation and entrepreneurialism, but not rampant corruption interestingly enough.

    My grandparents lived in Ukraine but relocated to Russia after the Second World War due to political turmoil at the time.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, my father’s primary occupation was beekeeping. At that time, I think society was in a state of shock as no one could believe that the country could possibly implode, let alone so quickly.

    Anyway, the economy was in a state of flux and that continued until around 1993 when things started to stabilise. By then my father started manufacturing furniture under, of all names Australux. I’ve no idea why or how this came about but he obviously had a fascination with my adopted country.

    Was your family always into bees and honey production?

    My family’s connection to bees can be traced back to my grandfather in Ukraine. It was something borne by necessity given the precarious state of the economy and the availability of food. His enthusiasm and knowledge for bees and traditional European beekeeping methods were handed down to my father and myself.

    Zubko Family History Timeline

    A proud Zubko family history in beekeeping and honey production dates back to the 1950s.


    Honey is an excellent source of nutrition, as well as being rich in antioxidants. It is also extremely good for assisting wound regeneration, including burns. Essentially, honey is a medical kit in liquid form. Everyone from my youth appreciated these benefits and so our honey was extremely popular with our neighbours.

    I suppose you could say that what was originally a necessity became a labour of love for my family.

    When and why did you move to Australia?

    In 1995, the first Chechen war had been going on for a few years. I was 15 and approaching the age of conscription. My parents, concerned about my welfare, sent me to a boarding school in Australia. When you now read about the atrocities that were perpetrated by both sides and subsequent death and injury tolls, it was something I’m eternally grateful for.

    Boarding school can be a challenge, especially for a foreign student. Tell us about the experience.

    Initially the language barrier was problematic. However I had support from school staff and quickly learned English. Academically, this prejudiced my initial learning but it wasn’t long before I caught up with the other students.

    Newington College is one of the best private schools in Sydney. Not only was it formidable in terms of networking, but also a place where business acumen is learned both directly from teachers and by osmosis from students’ parents. This opened my mind to an entire world of possibilities.

    Newington also offered a wide range of extracurricular activities which I embraced. My favourite pursuit was rowing. I threw myself into that sport with vigour and ultimately became the Australian schoolboy champion in the eight in 1998, coached by legendary Michael Morgan.

    Andrey Zubko - Australian Schoolboy Rowing Champion

    A young Andrey Zubko celebrates national rowing competition success with his proud father Alexander 


    Was this when you established your first venture?

    Correct, Russia underwent a transformation after the Soviet Union disintegrated.  The creation of a middle class resulted in greater demand for more innovative or unique products. As an example, prior to 1990, all cupboard doors used hinges, whereas post-1990 the population was exposed to sliding doors. While you may laugh, that was the reality of living there.

    Anyway, I was exposed to many new designs in Australia which I shared with my family back home. They responded with enthusiasm, so I started my first company Export International exporting participle board and other fixtures for Australux in Russia.

    During the day I was a student and at night I was doing both homework and running a business. It was surreal as I had a telephone line running directly from the school phone in the corridor to my room. That was connected to a facsimile machine so I could receive orders from Russia and place orders with the supplier. I’m pretty sure you couldn’t get away with that now.

    So post-boarding school you built up that business?

    No, I obtained a Bachelor’s degree of Economics in 2001 at Macquarie University. By then Russia had become more sophisticated and technologically savvy, so my family was able to engage with Australian suppliers directly. That, paired with the opening of borders to other countries, made my involvement redundant. Nevertheless, it was fun at the time.

    Instead, while I was at university, I started my wine export business. Operating under the brand Australux Premium Products, I had an arrangement with Petersons Wines in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales to bottle and export their wine. Immersing myself in the wine sector for several years, I gained invaluable expertise in branding and distribution, which was a passion of mine. During this time, I also became an Australian citizen.

    Ultimately, I did return to work back in my home country in 2009, funnily enough in Vladivostok. Working in my family’s business, Australux, I also continued to manage Export International in Australia. Being on the plane every month was the norm for me.


    Australux - Zubko family business

    The former Australux showroom in Vladisvostok, Russia


    And this is when your career really took off?

    Actually, it took a complete pivot. I was in my family’s furniture store when I saw a beautiful young woman named Oxana inspecting Australux wardrobes for her parents.  It was love at first sight for me. And thankfully for her. Within a very short period of time we were married.

    I soon realised that while my furniture and wine endeavours paid the bills, my true passion lay in honey production. My fascination with bees was unwavering and unlike winemaking, I have a deep history and heritage in beekeeping and honey production. Hence, we began exploring the logistics of manufacturing and exporting our honey. We then developed a business strategy, which was the genesis of Biosota Organics.


    Zubko Beekeeping Family

    A hive of activity: The Zubko family at the Biosota Organics apiary on the Gold Coast. Pictured left to right are Oxana, Andrey, Misha and Masha with Andrey’s father Alexander and mother Luda 


    Initially, we started with a handful of hives, however, it wasn’t long before demand necessitated buying honey from neighbours and then neighbouring villages. We were so successful that we ultimately began exporting to Australia.

    It’s somewhat coming full circle, isn’t it? I moved from Russia and ended up exporting furniture products home and, when I became a naturalised Australian, moved to Russia and exported honey to my adopted home. So, I’ve always had a knack for international export.

    "I have a penchant to cite Chinese philosophers as I'm enamoured by the country. Therefore please indulge me with the following, 'You can't catch a cub without entering the tiger's den'. In other words, with success inevitably comes risk." - Andrey Zubko

    What led to you returning to Australia?

    It needs to be appreciated that we were living in eastern Russia at this time. This was a pristine environment and perfect for the manufacture of the purest honey.  All that changed on 11 March 2011 when the tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

    Everyone was acutely aware of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 and the radioactive fallout across Europe. It became apparent that if the reactor did leak, the contamination would have a deleterious impact not only on our long-term health but the viability of honey production. We therefore decided to move to Australia. While regrettable at the time, it was the right decision to make.

    And I have to say the weather helps. While we love the snow, the novelty of contending with six months of five degrees or less temperature quickly wears off. Joking aside, it’s the perfect place to set up a honey-manufacturing facility.


    Zubko Family Beehives


    Initially it really was a cottage industry in Sydney. We purchased various types of honey from around New South Wales and processed it at our home. At a point in time, it became apparent that larger facilities were required so we purchased a factory in the northern suburbs of Sydney. Honey Tray

    It was around this time that we identified a honey type that was not readily available in the Australian market, so we focused our attention on Manuka honey. 

    Manuka is a superior health product to other honey, such as Yellow Box etc. That’s because it has greater medicinal properties, clinically proven to be beneficial for a range of health conditions from gut health to antibiotic-resistant wounds.

    We were producing various grades of Manuka honey at the time but realised that we needed to stand apart from our competitors, so we focused our attention on the rarer strength harvest premium market, becoming pioneers and leaders in the space.

    The higher the MGO number, the purer the Manuka honey and more potent the health benefits.

    Is this how the MGO 2100+ came to be?  

    Precisely, but firstly I need to highlight a Chinese saying ‘Those who just want speed don’t succeed’.

    We experimented with hive management during the harvest and off-season, plus ageing Manuka honey with Methylglyoxal ratings between MGO 400 – 1000. MGO is how the antibacterial strength and purity of concentrated Manuka blossom nectar is measured and graded.

    However, we soon realised that we could achieve far better concentration of the medicinal properties if we stored honey at a specific temperature for up to 24 months.


    Biosota Manuka Honey MGO 2100 Gift Box

    MGO 2100+  – “The Champagne of the fine dining world”


    Through trial and error, and considerable investment in the hives management system, we were able to achieve MGO strengths up to 1717+ which was the pinnacle of success.  At this stage, instead of sitting on our laurels, we pushed harder and achieved MGO 2100+. This is now the world’s highest MGO honey.

    What precisely is MGO 2100+? 

    The easiest way to explain this is by using an analogy. Manuka honey is essentially a functional health food. Developing such high levels of the health-giving properties naturally present in Manuka honey is both an art and a science. 

    It requires the perfect alignment of natural elements and expertise craftsmanship.

    Manuka honey is the Champagne of the fine dining world. Each rare vintage harvest is expertly crafted in small batches, each jar bursting with flavours and living properties unique to the region and time of year.

    Instead of gifting wine or whiskey, Manuka honey is a unique gift of health and prosperity. Our MGO 2100+ is the rarest and most valuable grade of Manuka honey. Limited edition with only 500 jars available, it truly is an exceptional once-in-a-lifetime gift from nature’s bounty.

    The market was awash with many honey brands during this time, so it became a matter of commercial viability to create something that was crème da crème.  We knew we had the expertise to manufacture it and the passion to drive this to success. We never considered failure as a possibility.

    We ultimately relocated the company from Sydney to Queensland for two specific reasons. The first was the prevalence of more pristine forests from which bees can source the nectar.  Secondly, the environment is conducive to raising a family.  That’s not to say that Sydney isn’t; however, open spaces and close proximity to the world’s best beaches cannot be beaten.

    To offer a greater variety, we also produce other Manuka honey MGO ratings that are also of premium quality, such as MGO 1200+ and 1717+. In fact, our full collection of premium Manuka honey has recently earned us the distinction of Best Luxury Manuka Honey in Australia, in the Luxury Lifestyle Awards 2024. 


    Biosota Manuka Honey MGO 1717 Gift Box

    The Biosota Manuka Honey 1717+ expression retails for an impressive A$599 (US$395) with Heinemann at Sydney Airport, more expensive than Hennessy XO (A$520) or Johnnie Walker Blue Lunar New Year – Dragon (A$488)


    With MGO 2100+ honey, the reaction has been very good. We are talking about the most exclusive honey in the world. Unlike other production facilities, the honey isn’t processed in any way. What we extract from the hives is hand-poured into glass containers in a sterile environment and then shipped to its destination.

    The only human involvement, if you want to call it that, is how we store it and then lab test its purity to ensure it’s not contaminated by other pollen or insecticides.

    Let’s talk about travel retail. Biosota Organics is currently listed with Heinemann at Sydney Airport. You are exhibiting in Singapore so clearly you have plans to expand in the channel.

    Yes we do. As a small, family-owned and operated business, we were initially totally out of our depth when it came to duty free sales. We were fortunate to use Heinemann as the launch site in Sydney and their assistance has been invaluable.

    Biosota Manuka Honey Display at Heinemann Duty Free

    Biosota Organics Manuka Honey on display with Heinemann at Sydney Airport, including some retailer exclusives


    Using the right brand ambassador is also essential and we’ve been incredibly fortunate to partner with Toni Martello from Azzurra One. She and her team are an absolute delight to work with and their sales have been exceptional.

    We attended the TFWA event in Singapore last year and as you say will do so again this year.  We never realised how big this industry is and the opportunities that may arise if we market Biosota Organics properly, and partner with the right companies.


    Zubko Family Beekeeping


    So where to next?

    In travel retail terms, we were extremely fortunate that we weren’t in a position to expand operations prior to COVID as the shutdown of airports and international trade would have decimated us in light of the investment required.

    In the post-COVID era, we’re seeing considerable interest in our products from China, South Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and the Americas, which isn’t surprising given these countries place a considerable emphasis on natural remedies.

    Therefore, in the short term, this is our primary focus from an export perspective.

    To increase our footprint, we also intend to invest more capital in promoting across Australian airports that traditionally service the ASEAN market, notably Melbourne and Brisbane.

    We’ll also consider putting a toe into the water to assess interest in Europe, However, that’s over the horizon right now.

    I’m convinced that the Biosota product range is a perfect fit for the ASEAN market so we will invest there to increase our profile. ✈