10 Feb Sweet Success – Kia Ora Magazine
The unique qualities of New Zealand honey are helping build the buzz around a family business in Katikati.
When David and Julie Hayes got into kiwifruit orcharding as teenagers back in 1989, they had no idea their journey would lead them into a business based around bees.
Even the kiwifruit industry was facing tough times in those days. “Lots of people said we were mad, which we probably were,” Julie recalls.
But their move into orchard management and subsequent purchase of their own orchards – plus a canny decision to buy their own hives for pollination purposes – provided the basis for a business which these days boasts a thriving apiary operation, state-of-the-art honey processing and packaging facilities and burgeoning export markets. They also play a key role and have a stake in a forward-thinking research business exploring the potential medical uses of New Zealand honey, bee venom and other products from bees and their environment.
Julie remembers it was a tough kiwifruiting year when they decided that instead of renting pollination hives, it made more sense to purchase a hundred of their own. “It just sort of grew from there.”
A year later, they invested in more hives and started a company called Buzz Apiaries Ltd, which tapped into demand from other orchardists. Today, it has more than 1200 hives and four full-time beekeepers– including two of Julie and David’s three sons.
In 2008, they built a honey-extraction facility. That operation, which runs from December to April each year, produces filtered honey in 300kg drums, but the Hayes soon decided they needed their own processing facility, which was when their BeeNZ brand was born.
Built to use the latest technology and meet important certification standards, their new facility began processing honey – from species including manuka, kanuka, pohutakawa and rewa rewa – and packaging it for export early in 2016. Since then, it has been kept busy meeting rising demand, much of it from major clients in Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China.
David and Julie want to spread their story to other potential overseas clients attracted by New Zealand’s “clean-green” image and by manuka honey in particular. “I think our point of difference is we manage the honey from paddock to plate,” says Julie. “We’re in control of the whole process line, honey production, extraction, processing, packing and exporting.
Youth soccer was the unexpected catalyst for another business opportunity, when it brought the Hayes in contact with Prof. Shaun Holt, a doctor and researcher interested in exploiting the possible medical uses of honey and bee venom. Holt, who coached one of the Hayes’ sons, mentioned in a sideline conversation that he was looking to do some honey research, so they asked him to look at the properties of kanuka honey, which David calls “an unsung hero” compared to its better-known cousin, manuka.
The project evolved into HoneyLab, a research company that has already developed products designed for use in treating skin diseases, joint pain and the common cold. The Hayes are shareholders, provide the enterprise with its raw honey and bee venom and distribute its products.
HoneyLab has published more than 20 medical research studies, has a large pipeline of new products to test and has recently announced a partnership with Procter & Gamble. “Honeylab has put the science behind the honey,” says Julie. Importantly, even if that science is sold and the products rebranded, the manufacturers will still need New Zealand kanuka honey to make them.
With business thriving, the Hayes want to grow the proportion of honey they process that goes to market under their own BeeNZ brand, which means a greater focus on marketing. “David and I need to get overseas and sell our brand.”
The bee business doesn’t always run smoothly. Diseases and pests have to be dealt with and rain at harvest time can affect production. Julie says the challenges just have to be managed. “You maintain your hives to be as healthy as they can be.”
She says BNZ “has been alongside us from the very start”, when one of its rural managers helped the Hayes get established in orcharding. Since then, other BNZ managers have aided their expansion into different fields. “BNZ understands our dreams, our vision, our family needs and where we want to go in the future.”