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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Marketing honey and beeswax

Apiculture gives some of the world's poorest people the opportunity to harvest marketable, income-generating products.  The best known bee products are honey and beeswax and to gain cash income from their sale, they need to be brought to a suitable market.

What is the difference between 'marketing' and 'selling'?  Marketing is a proactive process of identifying and meeting the needs of customers or buyers in a profitable way, whereas selling is just the actual transaction: exchange of product for money. As this explanation suggests marketing calls for more planning and more deliberate decision making than selling.

Each participant in the market chain will engage in marketing.  This includes the beekeeper who sells honey to a bulk buyer, and a shop which offers the final product for sale to a customer. The principles of marketing for each are the same and but in practice there are significant differences.

Marketing for beekeepers

Beekeepers need to decide what market best suits their needs. This decision can only be made if people understand the choices available to them. Market opportunities will vary depending on the volume of honey available for sale and the broad opportunities available to the beekeeper for accessing a given market and this depends on location, contacts and available resources (if any) to spend on marketing. For instance, a beekeeper who has only a small quantity of honey available just after harvesting and who has no transport to move to an area where there is less honey on the market, will have fewer market options. The likelihood is that the only option will be the local market and the local price.  A beekeeper who is able or willing to store the honey until after others have finished selling may have a better local market with potentially a higher price for the honey as it is much scarcer.  On a larger scale, a beekeeper with many colonies who can afford to transport the honey will be able to access more distant retail markets. Beekeepers who only have modest amounts of honey to sell but who are willing to join up with other beekeepers in the same position - perhaps to pay for transport to new markets will have different choices again.

In general, local markets offer a small amount of steady cash income but more limited opportunities for growth of the beekeeping business. This is especially true if there are many other beekeepers all trying to sell into the local market at the same time.  Lack of access to distant markets and glutted markets may leave producers vulnerable to middle men offering less money than producers had hoped for and potentially discouraging production.  Distant markets can absorb large volumes of honey so can potentially produce greater wealth for the producers. However, these markets require far greater volumes of honey and usually demand a reliable supply through the year. This frequently requires co-operation between many different people to make up a supply chain. The more distant the market, the longer the supply chain. Like all chains this will be made up of a number of links - producers, consolidators, traders, wholesalers, retailers etc. If any link in the chain is missing then the whole supply chain will collapse.  It also needs to be borne in mind that each person in the honey marketing chain will require to gain some income from the product which may affect both the buying and selling price.  Distant markets require large volumes, reliable delivery times, defined quality standards and may carry some regulatory burden not required by local markets.

Marketing packed table honey

Honey packed in jars is a product which the final consumer purchases and any packer or retailer offering packed table honey for sale needs to think about generating a brand image and customer loyalty. First time buyers buy with their eyes, and if the quality and value are good, they become loyal customers.  The challenge is how to make your jar of honey look better and more attractive than other honeys on the same shelf.  The part of the label seen immediately by a customer is the viewable front panel so this has to have impact over other brands, have good print size, brand or trade name, type or origin of honey.  This front panel should aim to impress, whilst detailed information can be put on the side and back.  The package must not leak, and must never be sticky.  Where possible, use a jar or bottle that is sealed, or use your own tamper proof seal.  This way a customer can be sure the jar has never been opened since it left the factory.

A mark showing the product meets national food quality standards can make your product stand out from others. Many national labelling standards call for certain information to be declared on the label such as date bottled and origin of the honey.

Attention must be devoted at all times to maintaining standards.  Mistakes, including inadequate attention to quality, missing, damaged or delayed shipments, lack of regular communication, difficulties in collecting payments, late delivery, and late or inadequate responses to orders, can all contribute to loss of customers.  Reliability is a very important factor in marketing.

Creating product diversity by using two sizes of containers may give you more shelf space over your competitor, and further expose your brand.  Customers with limited spending power will buy a small size.  Types of containers that are different from your competitors may prove more expensive, however a unique container and label creates a unique brand. 

Beeswax

Beeswax is a very different commodity from honey. Whereas honey has many local market niches which can absorb small quantities of honey, beeswax buyers frequently want very large quantities of wax, either for export markets or for industrial uses.  This makes selling small quantities of beeswax rather difficult for ordinary beekeepers.  It also presents consolidators with problems too, as a lot of capital may have to be allocated to beeswax purchases to build up a large enough volume for onward bulk sale.  There are opportunities for beekeepers' associations  to collect large quantities of beeswax for commercial sale. However, there is rarely interest in quantities of less than one tonne and buyers are more frequently looking for quantities in the region of 10 tonnes annually.  On the plus side, beeswax from African bees is in great demand by both cosmetics makers and beeswax foundation makers in Europe and America.  The fact that African beekeepers do not use chemicals means that their wax is very pure and chemical free.  Organic beeswax is in high demand internationally.

Beekeepers need to examine what market opportunities are available and relate this to the quantity and quality of beeswax they have available.  Beeswax, can be used to make secondary products which have more value than raw beeswax e.g. candles, polish.  Beeswax candles make excellent gifts for tourists.

Also see the sections on methods of extracting and cleaning beeswax.  Buying raw beeswax, cleaning it and making secondary products such as candles and cosmetics is a business opportunity highly suitable for women because it suits their existing skills.


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