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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Iconic, Inter-Generational Beekeeping Business Hits the Market

Iconic Marlborough Beekeeping business J Bush & Sons is up for sale, with the Bush family listing it for the first time in its 107-year existence. With hives sited from the Marlborough Sounds to well up into the South Island high country – including on New Zealand’s largest farm – and a label boasting blue borage, mānuka, clover and honey dew, it’s a unique business. We find out why the current generation of Bush beekeepers have made the decision to pass the business on and what’s on offer.

Peter Bush, left, and staff at one of J Bush & Sons apiaries, which are spread from the sea to the skyline in Marlborough and now, for the only time in their 107-year history, are up for sale.

The decision to sell a business which has been founded by your grandfather, in the family for 107 years, and you, your brother and father have worked in together for most of your life is not an easy one to make. So, why have Murray and Peter Bush decided to put their 1800 hives, honey label, extraction and packing plant, vehicles and hiveware on the market?

“The reason is, there isn’t going to be a fourth generation of Bushs in beekeeping and the current owners are at retirement age,” Murray Bush explains.

While many beekeeping businesses that have gone up for sale in recent years are due to their failure to turn a profit, Bush says this isn’t the case in the instance of J Bush & Sons.

“It's a viable and profitable business, but it's time for someone of a younger generation to put their stamp on it.

“We go all the way from hive to plate in the sense of retail packing. So, it's a fully integrated system. Ideally, somebody would be able to walk in and do the whole thing … Really everything is on the table until we start taking it off and we adapt to an inquiry. So, it’s being sold as a going concern, because that's what makes the business work financially at the moment,” Bush says.

It’s a truly unique business too, able to market their Molesworth Blue Borage honey from their hundreds of hives located on New Zealand’s largest farm, Molesworth Station in the Marlborough high country. While their beekeeping takes them there, or on nearby Muller Station, one day, the next they can be at the other end of the province, collecting mānuka honey from the Marlborough Sounds. The business’s base and extraction and packing plant is located in Blenheim, a central location between the coast and high country.

Blue borage is at home in the Awatere Valley of Marlborough, where J Bush & Sons hives collect honey for their private label.

“There are endless places to go and hide for lunch. You won't get any work done, but we do have some of the best views in the country,” Bush claims, and it’s hard to argue with him.

Founded by Horace Bush in 1916, Murray and Peters’ father John Bush has worked in the business for most of his life and didn’t stop “throwing boxes” until he was 76 years-old. At age 92, he still works delivering honey to shops.

John Bush – who at age 92 still has involvement in the family business – showcases a mānuka plant at their property in the Marlborough Sounds.

When Murray returned home to work in the business for good in 1991, brother Peter was already a fixture in the hives, meaning they have worked side-by-side for the past 32 years and for many years alongside their father.

So, with a proud family history and present such as that, who do they see as best suited to take the business into the future?

“It’s ideal for someone with experience in the industry, somebody possibly wanting a different lifestyle from the mānuka wars of the North Island, a different environment, different climates. Possibly somebody stepping up from being a straight producer who wants to be a producer, but then control their honey’s destiny a little bit more and have the upside that’s attached to that. It’s somebody wanting a new challenge in the industry, or just adding to their existing skills,” Bush suggests.

Currently the J Bush & Sons honey range is listed in a range of domestic retail outlets, including several supermarkets.

Given the scale of the properties their hives are located on, and their retail presence, there is scope to grow the business too, according to Bush.

They have spoken to both their immediate and extended family though, and it won’t be them taking the reins.

“It’s time to use our precious time for other things,” Bush says of he and his brother, adding “to play with the grandkids, and go fishing”.


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