Bee Free Honee is a plant-based, sustainable honey substitute made from organic apples. With consumers becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, Bee Free Honee could provide a solution for those looking for an alternative. We spoke with founder Katie Sanchez about the product and why we need to help bee populations.
Tell us about Bee Free Honee. Why & how did you start up the company?
In 1999 I was trying to make apple jelly; being a novice jelly maker and in a hurry, I did not read any directions and just guessed. Knowing it was wrong but not wanting to waste anything, I decided to put it into a can, to see if it could be used for something. In the morning I looked to find that it was just like honey. Growing up, my father was a beekeeper. I grew up with bees and we had an apple orchard in our front yard, so this was full circle for me. A few years later I began to hear about the decline of the honey bee. As I looked into what was happening to the honey bee population I began to see how far from natural beekeeping the commercialised beekeeping industry had gone. I saw this as a way to help the bees by taking some production demand from them and an opportunity to educate the public. But I was also a pastry chef for Whole Foods Market at the time and was making a lot of vegan pastries. I thought about what a great gift I could give to my fellow bakers. I later learned that it is safe for those who are allergic to traditional honey and it is safe for young children.
What is Bee Free Honee made from and how do you produce it?
There are three ingredients in Bee Free Honee – original: US-grown organic apple juice (made from concentrate and water), vegan quality/non-GMO cane sugar, and lemon juice. With the flavours, we use ingredients to flavour our product. We steep whole Ancho chillies, we steep fresh mint, and we use organic slippery elm from North America. Bee Free Honee is still very much an artisan product made in small batches, but we are actively working toward expansion with the help of a co-packer.
Tell us about the different variations of bee free honee. What do they taste like? What’s their nutritional value?
Original – this is the closest to traditional honey. You can use Bee Free Honee in any recipe that calls for traditional honey in equal proportions; there is no exchange and no difference to the end product.
Ancho chile – this is not picante, but just a smoky, chili-flavoured honey. None of our flavour profiles are meant to be in your face flavours.
Mint – a lot of people are hesitant to try this one with something in mind that is too strong. They are consistently pleasantly surprised. It is a fresh/soft mint flavour that works really well in tea, vinaigrettes, glazes for some meats or in a tequila mojito!
Slippery elm – this one is very popular with teachers and gaining traction as the word gets out with singers. Slippery elm is our curative; it soothes a sore throat and calms an upset belly. This honey has a very pleasant and soft earthiness. There’s a bakery we know of that makes a “get well” ginger cake using this honee.
How does this product help bees? Why is it important to do so?
The natural life cycle of the bee is to be in a stationary hive. They pollenate within a 2–3 mile radius. But now, the majority of the honey that has been harvested in the US is from commercialised beekeeping. These bees are loaded on to flatbed trucks and trucked across the nation to pollinate different orchards and groves. This means the bees are being exposed to every climate, they are mingling with bees and their parasites/diseases that they would not normally interact with.
Then there is the topic of nutrition. Bees’ nutrition needs are really complex. They need variety to get all the amino acids, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Beekeepers used to keep reserves for the bees in times of drought. However, the demand for honey is so high right now that many larger beekeepers no longer keep a reserve and are reliant on feeding sugar water and corn syrup to feed the bees.
We’re advocating for beekeepers to return to the more natural way of keeping bees. We still need the beekeepers to maintain hives, as we have created a situation where bees are reliant on humans to thrive. So, we are not looking to put anyone out of business, but we can help ease the production demands. We can educate the public as to what is happening. We are also looking forward to the day that we can provide hives to the orchards where we get our apples so that we can prove that you can raise bees and have a business that is responsible, sustainable, and profitable.
Who is your target market?
Our target market includes those that have a plant-based diet, those who are environmentally conscious, new mothers, those looking for new flavour profiles, those looking for a stable price point, those who are allergic to traditional honey, anyone who enjoys a little sweetness in their life.
You recently featured on Shark Tank. What’s the response been since appearing on the show?
The response to Shark Tank has been incredible. It has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. I am excited at the vast opportunities that are in front of us.
You are currently available in the US, are you looking to expand globally?
We would love to go global, but we need to stabilise our production capabilities to support the US demand before we can look at exporting.
What’s your plan for 2016?
We are excited about looking to suppling as ingredient and to foodservice, while expanding our retail and online presence.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020