Let’s break the traditional mask on honey and reveal its economic value beyond sweetness
By Caroline Mwendwa
Many people know honey as a medicinal substance, and think of it traditionally. But just how much worth is it as a commercial product? Simple calculation of the worth of one kilo of honey against that of one litre of fuel shows that honey’s worth is twice as much as that of fuel. But Africans have hardly embraced this agricultural product as a source of revenue. Honey Care Africa considers this a great asset to farmers and has been promoting beekeeping for the last seventeen years. “Honey is the least expensive of any farming as it does not require much time and land to be established,” says Mr David Gachoki, CEO, Honey Care Africa. It is for this reason that Honey Care saw an opportunity to conserve the environment while eradicating poverty among farmers through beekeeping.
Honey Care begun with a very simple, yet highly beneficial model and centres its interest on small holder farmers. “We begun with a home collection model, which involved availing beehives to farmers and educating them on the best way of practising productive beekeeping,” explains Mr Gachoki. In 2014 Honey Care transitioned from a non-governmental organization to a fast moving consumer goods company. “Today we have farmers’ representatives in every locality where we source honey, who help us collect honey from other farmers,” he explains. Mr Gachoki however quickly clarifies that Honey Care does not process the honey collected, instead, it is packaged in its natural form which means that all the nutrients are still intact.
Honey Care sources honey from various regions within and outside the country in areas such as: Baringo, West Pokot, and Sudan, where it has another subsidiary. “Some of our brands are named after the places they were collected from, such as: Baringo honey, West Pokot honey among others.”
Honey and products
Products at Honey Care are divided into beekeepers and pure honey.“Honey comes in two forms : honey from arid and semi-arid areas. Honey from the arid and semi-arid areas is usually obtained from acacia trees and appears to be steamy, while the one obtained from heavily vegetated areas is dark due to the pollen in it,” explains Mr Gachoki.
This debunks the myths around honey as most people believe that the clear honey is usually of the best quality, yet the reality is the darker it is, the more pollen and other nutrients it carries. Mr Gachoki also clears myths around the crystalizing of honey as he says that customers think that once honey begins to crystalise, then it is going bad. This is not true as placed in low temperatures, natural honey crystalises and this should be considered proof that it is actually in its natural form, no, preservatives or stabilisers are added.
Apart from honey, Honey Care makes other products including butters and snacks. “We grind nuts straight from farmers, and don’t add anything, else, to produce and package peanut butter and cashew nuts.” These butters are highly nutritious and evenly mixed due to the high oils in the nuts. Sometimes after staying in the containers, the butter tends to separate with the nut oils, but this is a clear indication that the butter is void of any preservatives or stabilisers, hence assuring consumers that they are buying a natural product. This makes it soft to use and easy to spread unlike a stabilized butter.
Other products that are gaining traction from this company are healthy snacks that come in sundry forms. A recent survey shows that most young people don’t consider any snack healthy. In fact they hold the opinion that any healthy food can only be gotten from home. However, snacks made of whole highly nutritious grains and retailed at pocket friendly prices are now in the market thanks to Honey Care. “Crackers are quickly gaining ground and they come in various flavours including: peanut, simsim, chocolate peanut and chocolate simsim.”
In the pipeline is another category of honey coated peanuts and cashewnuts which are set to hit the market by the end of this year.Honey Care is expanding its product portfolio to offer bulk honey, peanuts and cashewnuts as more and more markets open up.
Having started with only a few farmers, Honey Care has grown to impact lives of approximately 5,000 small holder farmers.With a workforce of about 80 employee, the company is growing in leaps and bounds and has so far established partnerships with leading local and international organisations including GAINand DSN.
Technology wise, Honey Care is spinning. “Currently, we have instant butter producing machines, where customers can order and wait for it to be prepared.”
Honey production is based on the season, and that means that during dry spells, there is very little honey obtained from farmers. The weather is therefore a key determinant of the availability of honey. “Where there are no rains, there is less honey being produced and vice versa.”
Another hurdle that honey dependent firms contend with is the issue of security. Considering that honey is sourced from some of the most war prone parts of the country such as West Pokot and Baringo, insecurity is bound to affect availability of honey especially when there is unrest in these areas. “Often times, we have had to suspend going for honey from these areas due to difficulties in logistics at such times when tribes which constitute beekeepers that provide us with honey are engaged in battles.”
Mr Gachoki also observes that as masses begin to realize the nutritional and medicinal value of honey, and other related products, demand is slowly rising past the supply. “There is need for more honey as the local and international markets are growing.”
Seeing that their products are majorly suitable for the general market, Honey Care is planning to shift focus to the remote areas through the general shops as outlets, as compared to the current saturation in supermarkets. “As is evident, supermarkets, which have been our major retail points in the country are slowly becoming less dominant which is a sign for us to restructure our supply chain to reach out to the general markets even beyond the city,” says Gachoki.
In addition to expanding their market reach, the company is also looking to regularly come up with more products with greater appeal to their markets. “We plan to create at least two new products every year,” he says further adding that honey is a raw material to uncountable products and therefore, they have a lot more to achieve in terms of product offering.
Nuggets on the industry
Healthy eating is gradually taking centre stage in Kenya and globally, and this has had a positive impact in the industry. As people realise the benefits of honey and healthy snacking, we are laden with a much bigger responsibility to fulfill the mission of becoming Africa’s most trusted healthy snacking company.
Come next year, Honey Care plans to embark on a healthy snacking campaign in an effort to change perceptions on snacking habits.
On a wider view, Africa has not been keen on adopting other cash crops apart from the ones which were introduced by the colonizers many years ago. Such lucrative practices as beekeeping for commercial purposes should be embraced and policies formulated to support them.