Bees for Development
This page summarises the practical things producers need to consider if they take on the procedures of collecting, bulking and packing honey.
Collection and bulking
To address the problems of getting honey from remote rural locations to a central point for packing, collection centres and collection points can be organised as part of making larger market linkages. These may be established either by the honey packers or the beekeepers and may be either a physical point for bulking and storing honey that has been purchased from beekeepers before selling to buyers at a slightly higher price (sufficient to cover the costs of the collection centre) or it can simply be a place where a group of beekeepers meet buyers at an agreed time. Collection centres run as businesses by beekeeper groups need to trade in a minimum quantity of honey if they are to cover their running costs.
Honey packers form the point in the supply chain where honey is packed into bottles or other containers for final buyers. They need substantial and reliable supplies of good quality honey to satisfy their customers. The quality of honey at the point of sale depends on the care taken at all points in the production chain - from producer to retailer. Ripe honey directly from the bee colony is of perfect quality. The best quality honey for sale will have a low water content (ideally no more than 18% and tested using a refractometer). It should not be heated as this accelerates the aging process of the honey and breaks down the enzymes and other constituents responsible for the natural medicinal qualities of honey. Cleanliness in handling and packing is essential to prevent honey becoming contaminated with dirt or bacteria. The places that these is likely to happen can be identified by making a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan. This grand sounding name just requires the people at all points in the value chain to think about the places where there is a risk of contamination being introduced. Clear examples would be ensuring that storage containers are uncontaminated or that honey packers wash their hands after visiting the toilet.
Honey must be correctly stored in clean, air tight, wide topped, food grade containers. There can be significant wastage if honey is allowed to granulate in the storage containers. This wastage leads to financial loss and can be a key element in profitability. The use of wide topped storage buckets ensures that all the honey in the container can be removed and the container easily cleaned. Honey can be of the highest quality even if it has not been tested or certified and honey that has been carefully handled between producer and consumer will remain of the highest quality. Certification however, promotes trust between trading parties where trust may otherwise be lacking.
Honey presented to consumers should be bright and attractive in appearance and packed appealingly. Crystallisation (granulation) will make honey look unappealing. However, pasteurisation and ultra filtration, designed to prevent the honey from granulating and increase storage times and product uniformity, does also reduce the quality of the honey.
When bottling honey for retail markets it is helpful if a branded style can be developed to enable consumers to identify the honey seller. The label is especially important as this is what attracts people to buy the honey in the first place. Then, as long as the consumer has enjoyed the honey, a distinctive label will allow them to buy the same product again.
Distant markets, defined as markets outside the immediate locality, will have different expectations from local markets in terms of both honey quality, the type and design of the packaging used and the levels of product traceability demanded. It is harder to identify and to satisfy the needs of consumers in distant markets than in local markets where consumer expectations may be lower or the market conditions are better understood by producers. Developing good relationships with the other people in the chain is essential. It takes time and persistence to develop trust between all the people involved. However, the effort of doing this is repaid by creating a marketing chain that will benefit all the people involved.
List of Articles available on this topic (2):
Honey Processing and Collecting Centres in East Africa
Townsend G F
Requirements for exporting honey to an E.U. country