MANAGEMENT MATTERS BROUGHT TO YOU BY MyApiary
By DARREN BAINBRIDGE – MyApiary founder and general manager
When I first started learning about the honey industry about nine years ago, I was a complete “new-bee”. Coming to the industry with fresh eyes I questioned everything and made a lot of observations on different business practices. With time I have seen how these different practices/decisions have played out for a number of businesses.
Reflecting on some of these observations I made in the early days, one thing that stands out to me is the belief that “honey has always been difficult to sell”, with some years a lot harder than others. Observing that this is a significate business risk, I remember in my early days in the industry asking quite often, “why don’t you have a supply contract with a packer or number of packers?” Some businesses did, but, most did not, (I know in current times some of these contracts have not been honoured, but I want to pick up on a theme here). The common answer I got was “I don’t trust them, if I have a contract, I won’t get the best price for my honey”, with the majority of producers constantly shopping around.
As times passed from the good – of being able to shop around for top dollar – to the current largely price-taking environment, what’s happed? While most are struggling with their cashflow and sheds full of honey, a number of businesses are doing extremely well. Some are even expanding and taking the opportunity to buy businesses/hives at discounted rates from those that have distressed cashflow. I’m not just talking about the “big five” operators either.
Those doing well generally fall into one of two categories. Those that have played the long game and not been 100% focussed on price, been loyal to their buy/packer and built good relationships, are still moving their honey. While those that realised the industry was changing and have taken a step back from working in the hives to focus on developing their honey sales, have also weathered this period well.
New Year, New Approach?
Given its a new year, a time to contemplate and set some New Year’s resolutions, is it time to make some changes to your priorities within your business? With a shed full of honey and another crop about to come in, if you’re the business owner is it time to have that hard honest conversation with yourself and realise, you’re no longer solely a beekeeper and not just in the business of keeping bees, but in the business of producing honey!
I know, I know, I hear it all the time “I’m just a beekeeper, it’s not my job to sell my honey”. But hang on, back the bus up a bit, if you’re a producer of honey doesn’t that therefor, by default, make you a seller of honey!? Even the government has identified this, and afforded you the freedoms to continue operating as an essential food producer under the various Covid frameworks.
You may have started your career as a beekeeper and have possibly hired others to keep bees for you, but now as a business owner and employer your focus must also change. I know the transition can be hard, I have had to do it myself. To give up some of the things that are familiar – that you really like doing and why you got into the business in the first place. However – you must develop and put your energy into a business aspect that is potentially more foreign to you and might be just what your business needs. In some ways, given time, this can be quite freeing.
Now that we have established, you’re a honey producer not a beekeeper (the destination is quite important), how much time do you put towards finding new opportunities to sell your honey? I’ll say initially it should be at least 50%, if not more!
I still see a lot of opportunity for New Zealand honey to expand exports. According to a New Zealand Trade and Enterprise report, we only make up 1.3% of the global honey market. The world is a big place, there is still plenty of room for another packer/exporter or two … or three. How about some regional co-ops (not a national one, this is about you taking responsibility for your destiny, not someone else)? A few like-minded honey producers like yourself working together to meet an export contract or producing a product like mead or Jun tea (honey kombucha) to increase honey use?
Opportunity abounds for honey, but you’re not going to find a buyer for your honey with your head inside a hive.
Darren Bainbridge is the founder and general manager of MyApiary, a provider of beehive, apiary and honey house management software, as well as beekeeping business advisory and consultancy. www.myapiary.com