• Patrick Dawkins

Betta Bees Up for Sale

Fancy taking on a leading queen bee breeding programme? After 18 years of striving to improve the bee genetics of New Zealand’s honey bees, Betta Bees is up for sale. The Mosgiel, Otago, based breeding programme’s business model of shareholder ownership has proven unsustainable through the current honey industry downturn, but those guiding it believe it still has plenty to offer the industry and so private ownership is being sought.

Betta Bees Research Limited includes between 200 and 300 hives and instrumental insemination (II) equipment, the genetics held within the bees and use of the Betta Bees brand.

Established in 2004, Betta Bees Research Ltd's business model of shareholder ownership has proven unviable during the current honey industry downturn.

The business was founded in 2004 when 13 beekeepers from the Southern Beekeepers Discussion Group donated the best of their honey bee stocks to form the closed breeding programme. Regular II of virgin queens, raised from the best performing hives and utilising drone semen from similarly desirable hives, formed a breeding programme targeting highly productive Italian-strain bees, with calm temperament and golden colouring. These queens were distributed to shareholders of Betta Bees for use in their own beekeeping operations.

Falling revenue as shareholder numbers dropped away meant last winter staff were made redundant and Putake Queen Co. took over management for season 2021-22. However, this winter the Board decided a three year management agreement should be sought. With none forthcoming, it has been decided to put the business up for sale.

Around 20 shareholders remain and the current directors are chairman Jason Marshall, of SJA Honey, Peter Bell, of Mackenzie Country Honey, and Brendon Stratton of Oha Honey.

“Betta Bees has got one of, if not the most, advanced breeding programmes in the country. It would be a shame for the industry to lose all of that breeding and intellectual property. So, our hope is somebody will put in a tender to buy the entire programme and carry it on,” Marshall says.

The current ownership and management structure, where the directors are voluntarily running the operation, is “clunky and inefficient” the chairman says. Therefore, “rather than being a shame, I think this is a real opportunity to take Betta Bees in a better direction”.

“Now is probably the opportune time in the industry to pick something like this up. I think it is something that a queen raiser could tack on to their existing business to take that leap from just raising queens to having a high-end breeding programme, along with a respected brand and the history and data to go with it,” Marshall says.

With spring well and truly upon the hives in Otago, the directors wish to find a buyer within the next month or two. The hives have been maintained and treated for varroa, but no breeding is taking place at present.

Shareholders have given the directors a mandate to find the best buyer for the industry, and not necessarily the top dollar bid, Marshall says.

“The current structure of a Board of Directors and chairman, along with 20 different shareholders, is a very difficult structure to work with, especially for a company that is so small. It’s only got a couple of hundred hives. In its current form it is just not working, but a private person can buy it and take it to the next level, or the next part of its journey.”

For more information on the Betta Bees sale, contact Jason Marshall jason@sja.co.nz or ph 027 499 9297.


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