An amazing feeling this morning to wake up to a feature on our business in the Waikato Times, and on Stuff. Check it out!
The article talks about our honey range, which you can also find here.
Hunt and Gather Bee Co raw honey is a hive of activity in Raglan
Raglan honey producers Hannah and Rory O’Brien have been sweet on each other since they met as teenagers at Thames High School and travelled on the same school bus each day.
“Back then we could never have imagined that one day we’d be married with three kids [Kieran, Alice, and Michael, now 8, 5, and 1], and running a honey business together,” Hannah says.
Their startup, Hunt and Gather Bee Co, is in its fifth season, and is poised for new growth with an on-site honey processing plant and potential exports. The creamy raw (non-pasteurised) honey has gained a wide following. It has won three Outstanding NZ Producer Awards and a Rural Women Emerging Business accolade.
Beekeeping has been the couple’s pathway to an independent lifestyle. Hannah is a former primary school teacher, and for some years she and Rory worked as contract milkers on the Coromandel Peninsula. Farm ownership seemed beyond their reach so beekeeping became an alternative. Rory gained experience with commercial operators, then he and Hannah bought land at Te Mata, near Raglan, for their own business.
They began with 16 hives and a ute, and a simple division of labour. Hannah is allergic to bees, so Rory is the hands-on beekeeper and Hannah takes over once the honey’s out of the hives.
“I arrange everything, the processing and packing, the marketing, sales, social media, and distribution.”
They now have 300 hives on farmland around Raglan and Kāwhia, southern Coromandel and South Waikato. They are producing eight- to 10 tonnes of bush honey a year, and marketing six varieties. Their kānuka honey – more of a rarity, with a beautiful butterscotch flavour – is the standout, and is attracting interest from overseas markets.
Hannah says an on-site honey processing plant became crucial to their expansion and export plans, to give them better control over their product and avoid the costs and travel involved in transporting hives to a Katikati plant for extraction.
But there was a stalemate with their bank on a loan for the project so – always the innovators – they raised the money through crowdfunding platform, PledgeMe. They raised a $350,000 capital injection, and 154 much-appreciated shareholders.
“It was a make or break strategy for us,” she says.
The plant will be running by December, in time for the summer honey flush. They will offer contract processing to other beekeepers, and the extra capital means they can increase their hive numbers, tonnage, sales outlets, and employ staff.
Sustainability is a key part of the O’Briens’ operation. They are non-migratory beekeepers, with their hives mostly staying in one place to ensure year-round bush pollination, rather than a seasonal hit. They use glass jars and paper labels, and all their hive-ware is wooden (as opposed to plastic), and is entirely biodegradable at the end of its life. They also plant trees to offset their carbon emissions, and give trees to their host farmers.
Hannah is also recognised as an excellent networker among small Waikato producers. She is a board member of regional promotion group, Waikato Food Inc, and is a member of Eat New Zealand’s Kaitaki Collective 2021, a group of 30 people chosen to tell food stories from their particular corner of the country.
“There are producers doing some amazing things. You can get isolated in your own business, and having a connection with others is super-important,” she says.
Meanwhile, Hunt and Gather is humming along nicely and its creamy products are a staple on the O’Briens’ kitchen bench.
“We eat a lot of honey sandwiches in our family,” Hannah says.
Hunt and Gather Bee Co honey is at specialist stores nationwide, at the Waikato Farmers’ Market and in some New World supermarkets; huntandgatherbeeco.com.
Hannah O’Brien is a 2021 Kaitaki, or storyteller, for Eat New Zealand, a not-for-profit food collective dedicated to connecting people to our land through our food.