Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Honey and other honeybee products
With 35 to 40 percent growth forecast for 2018, business is buzzing for beekeeper and founder Beth Conrey.
Conrey says she's always "been a bit buggy," but she didn't discover how deep her passion for insects actually ran until she took a beekeeping class around the turn of the millennium. "We started with a couple of hives and I loved them, so we got some more," she recalls. "At some point, we started getting way too much honey. And when we started getting way too much honey, we started looking for an outlet for it. Then things just dominoed from there."
Conrey now has almost 100 hives spread out over Weld, Larimer, and Boulder counties. During the summer months, each hive houses between 40,000 and 80,000 bees. Those numbers drop to 10,000 to 20,000 per hive over the winter before increasing again in the spring.
"It's definitely a full-time job," Conrey says. "Our work usually begins in February when the days start to get dramatically longer, and the queens start laying a lot of eggs to try to build up the hives. We get out there and check that everybody has adequate food. In March, we start cleaning up the hives. By April, we're splitting each hive into two, three or more, basically managing the population numbers so that the bees are productive and don't swarm."
By the time May rolls around, Conrey says she and her team are working 14-hour days. "That's swarm season when the bees are really boiling," she adds. "But in June, things settle down and production mode begins. We stay in production mode until about September."
Because Bee Squared Apiaries processes honey in its own production facility, Conrey says she has the ability to harvest continuously throughout the summer. "This allows us to take advantage of various nectar flows," she explains. "For example, we can pull clover honey earlier and alfalfa honey later."
All of Bee Squared's honeys -- from the Colorado Alfalfa/Wildflower and Clover to the California Orange Blossom and Wisconsin Cranberry -- are chemical-free and sold in a variety of jar sizes as well as bulk wholesale. Conrey also sells beeswax, raw honey in comb, bee pollen, hand-rolled beeswax candles, and beeswax soap.
"Far and away, honey is king," she adds. "Eighty percent of our business is in honey in some form or fashion. Then 10 percent is candles, 5 percent is soap, and 5 percent is all the other things we do." She estimates that the company's revenues will be in the $500,000 range this year. "We should have maybe 35 to 40 percent growth," she continues. "We're in a sweet spot right now and are trying to not get too much bigger."
While Bee Squared used to do most of its business through the sale of wholesale buckets, Conrey says her biggest sales now come through distributors and wholesale repack. "We work with a couple distributors and are well into the institutional food market on top of that in a bunch of restaurants, hotels, and the airport."
Conrey's honey is also popular with craft brewers, distillers, and mead makers. "They usually buy directly through us in 60-pound buckets," she says. "The brewers like the alfalfa, wildflower, and orange blossom honey. The mead makers sometimes use the cranberry."
Bee Squared recently started producing a Whiskey-Barrel Aged honey as well. "We take wet barrels from three distillers," Conrey explains, "including Spirit Hound in Lyons, Branch and Barrel out of Centennial, and Laws Whiskey House in Denver. We put the honey in the barrels and let it age for 100 days. It has been an unbelievable product for us. Some of the distillers take the barrels back and put whiskey in them to make a honey whiskey. It's super cool how this whole thing has worked out."
Challenges: "By far the biggest challenge is that I'm losing my right-hand man," Conrey says. "I'm going to need to replace an employee and beekeepers don't just grow on trees."
Opportunities: Conrey says the opportunities for Bee Squared Apiaries are virtually unlimited. "We have tons of opportunities and need to prioritize them," she continues. "We're thinking about adding another product along the lines of the whiskey-barrel aged honey. CBD is also a huge market. And we have a lot of ethnic markets that we haven't yet tapped into. It just goes on and on. There are millions of dollars of unmet demand."
Why has the fruit of the labor of Apis mellifera become such a hot commodity? "I like to say that it's because it's the original superfood and tastes a whole lot better than kale," Conrey laughs. "Honey is antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and a natural humectant, so it's great for wound treatment and your general health. I also think it's because it's so reflective of the world around the bees. People are finally beginning to distinguish between the different varietals of honey and their flavor profiles. It's kind of like where wine was 40 years ago."
Needs: Conrey and her team need to transport large quantities of honey to their distributors and direct buyers. "It's starting to be a challenge for us because we're at capacity and will have to buy either a truck or a van or figure out some other transportation mechanism," she says.