Direct-marketing opportunities have potential BC honey producers get tips on business diversification options


VICTORIA – Diversification and innovation are two strategies for successful businesses. Beekeepers attending the annual conference of the BC Honey Producers Association in Victoria in October were given practical tips on how to keep bees not only for fun, but profit. The key is keeping an eye not on weaknesses but the strength of your situation, says Anicet Desrochers, proprietor of Api Culture Hautes-Laurentides Inc. in Ferme-Neuve, QC, a five-hour drive north of Montreal. “Being 300 kilometres

away from Montreal where the big tourism comes … we said well, maybe there’s the potential to transform the weakness, being so far isolated into forest, into strength – having some very fine honey, a very beautiful mountain in front of our shop,” he explains. “It’s thinking about something that will bring you more instead of, ‘We’re so far, oh, it costs so much in transportation to bring our jar down.’”

The farm launched in 2001

and now has 35 employees (15 are full time) and annual revenues of between $1.5 million and $2 million. The farm has 1,200 to 1,300 hives, each with about 15,000 to 20,000 bees (less than half the usual population). Desrochers is also a partner in Pope Valley Queens LLC in Vacaville, California. Desrochers says

beekeepers in Canada need 250,000 queens a year, and he would like to see apiaries in Canada meeting the need. His own farm garners 23% of its income from queens while organic honey marketed under the Miels d’Anicet name and retail sales account for 31%. Cosmetics and other value-added products represent 21%. Gourmet food products represent 13% while a small on-farm restaurant accounts for just 12% of sales. Revenues comes 38% from on-farm sales, 33% via retailers, 23% via beekeepers and 6% online. The diversification hedges against any one product failing, while locating the greater part of sales distribution at the farm avoids treks into the city or dealing with third parties. “We brought the whole thing to us,” he says. “We think that people who come straight to our farm will make us live better because we’re going to stimulate the economy of the region.” The purchase also

becomes more of an experience than if people were buying the product in Montreal, or picking it up in Mont Tremblant, the province’s internationally acclaimed ski resort 90 minutes south. Desrochers says he could have five times as many sales if he sold into Tremblant, but he thinks people who visit the farm have a deeper engagement. “People, when they’re coming to your shop, they’re not only there for buying a jar of honey. They come to live an experience,” he says. “We’re receiving people from New York, from Toronto, from all over the world [at] the farm because they know that they will have an experience there. It’s part of our thinking that through this, of course we make a bit more money because we don’t have any distributor, but we also bring an education and we make [appreciation of] beekeeping, the honey, rise a bit more.” Diversifying offerings is also important to beekeepers who sell through farmers’ markets, according to Shelley Hoover, apiculture unit lead with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry in Lethbridge. Hoover discussed the potential of pollen sales for beekeepers considering diversification.

She explained that bees gather 150 to 200 pounds of pollen a year to raise

fact, it could even enhance pollination activities because bees might work harder to make up for the loss than if pollen levels in the hive were untouched. Honey

production will be lower, however. This


between honey production and pollination.” Hoover looked at the prices honey and pollen fetched at the Lethbridge farmers market and when sold in bulk. Honey averaged $8 a pound at the Lethbridge market versus $1.10 a pound bulk. Pollen typically commanded three times as much at the market: $45 per pound versus $14 bulk. But if the per-pound price


While honey production is driven by external availability, pollen collection is driven by demand internal to the hive and bees will engage quite rapidly in self-regulation. This means that if beekeepers gather pollen from a hive for a short period, it typically won’t affect hive welfare. In

beekeepers need to make a call as to when they should opt to collect pollen, and that’s more than a question of honey production. “It depends on the price

you can get for your product,” Hoover said. “It’s not that there’s a direct trade-off

differential was attractive, the final tally revealed less of a difference than might be expected for the work required. Beekeepers who sold through a farmers market would see sales of $398.30 per hive when they collected pollen, versus $322.40 a hive normally (that’s a difference of $75.90). The bulk market would pay $85.86 per colony to pollen harvesters, and $44.33 per colony to others (a difference of $41.53). Hoover

determined that honey prices would have

to exceed a certain amount for a producer to consider trapping pollen. The threshold was $4 a pound in Alberta, and $5.64 in the Peace region of BC. “Beekeepers need to

constantly evaluate what they make, and when,” she said.




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