By Jamie Siebrase | Jun 01, 2017
Industry: Food & Beverage
A decade ago, French, a former Marine, was working in finance when he noticed his neighbor had an interesting hobby: beekeeping.
French went over to chat up his neighbor, and learned that the apiarist next door was recovering from surgery and couldn't lift his beekeeping equipment. French offered a helping hand, and harvested about 800 pounds of honey during a summer apprenticeship in 2007. For his efforts, the neighbor gifted French a hive.
"That started me off," French says. A few months later, that same neighbor told French he was retiring, and he offered to sell his remaining six hives. "I bought all of the hives and beekeeping equipment."
Beekeeping is an expensive hobby. One hive will set a beekeeper back about $500 on startup costs alone. French had heard about the plight of our local honeybees, and he wanted to help. That's how French got the idea to subsidize his beekeeping costs by getting the community involved.
French launched his Adopt-a-hive program in 2008 as a way of crowdfunding his newfound passion. "I set up a website, and just threw it out there to see what would happen," he recalls. Adopt-a-hive was the first CSA of its kind, and Coloradans eagerly began adopting their own colonies of honeybees, receiving a certificate and honey in exchange for their membership dues.
"I went from that one gift hive to about 100 hives," French says. You can still buy a share of 100 percent pure and raw Colorado honey on Adopt-a-hive website. Or you can purchase a jar of Colorado Hemp Honey, the infused raw honey manufactured under the Frangiosa Farms brand.
French wasn't initially interested in retailing his honey, but Frangiosa Farms got a contract to pollinate 70 acres of hemp in Colorado in 2015, and that gig sparked an idea.
Raw honey is lauded for its natural healing benefits. French calls it "a first aid kit," and he wanted to pair the restorative qualities of honey with industrial hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) to create a superfood the whole family could use.
"I take raw honey and infuse it with hemp abstracts and a little bit of essential oil," explains French. He makes his Colorado Hemp Honey in a commercial kitchen in Parker, not far from where he started his beekeeping operation.
"Manufacturing is . . . different," says French with a thoughtful pause. Actually, it's a big, sticky mess: Honey is a difficult substance to work with, and so is raw hemp, which French describes as "a gooey paste."
Locally sourced honey and hemp are hand-mixed in food-grade plastic buckets and packaged into jars with a pneumatic piston. Shipping and fulfillment are also done on-site, along with routine testing for potency and purity.
"We're really tapping into the healing benefits of the hemp and other essential oils," French says. Colorado Hemp Honey launched with 12-ounce jars of Mandarin Magic, a citrus-infused varietal. The company has since added three new flavors -- Lemon Aid, Ginger Snap, and Natural -- along with "chill sticks," a packaging alternative for on-the-go consumers that is manufactured off-site by a local co-packer.
You can find Colorado Hemp Honey in about 90 stores from California to Florida. The product sells well in health food stores, hardware stores, coffee shops, dispensaries, and even a few pet stores.
French recently quit his day job in order to devote more time to Colorado Hemp Honey and Frangiosa Farms. "It's a leap of faith that's enabling me to help move the business into its next stage," he says.
Challenges: One of French's biggest challenges involves educating his consumers. "Hemp is not marijuana, but for some reason when you talk about hemp extract people get confused," French says.
Opportunities: Frangiosa Farms is currently working to establish a stronger network of beekeepers in order to enhance its production platform. "We have the capacity to produce a lot more honey," French says. "Right now, we're looking at getting national distribution agreements in place." Colorado Hemp Honey is also developing a new product, a tincture for pets.
Needs: Capital. "We could use some additional funding to help get the sales force in play and secure some of our supply pipeline," French says.