What should you be paying for honey?
We know that cost is a big part of the decisions we make at the shops. We’re all bargain hunters, looking for the best price for all of our favourite kitchen staples. When it comes to honey, the price discrepancy between plastic-bottle honey and honey bottled on a local farm is often exorbitant, so a lot of us end up buying the cheaper option. But there are many reasons why you should spend a little extra buck for homegrown, local honey. If we can shorten the distance from farm to fork (or in this case—spoon!) and buy from local honey makers, it benefits the bees, South African farmers, and you! Here’s why:
It’s better for our farmers
Right now, most of the honey in the supermarkets in South Africa is cheap, fraudulent “honey”, mostly imported from China, and typically filtered, heated, blended and with many unhealthy additives. Sometimes, it isn’t even honey at all, but a mix of corn and rice sweeteners—making it super unhealthy. And the branding is tricky, too: some “local” brands will even promote themselves as “a product of South Africa” but, if you read the fine print, the honey actually comes from China and is only bottled here, meaning it’s probably not really honey.
With these imported honey being as cheap as they are, the cost of honey in South Africa is artificially low and local farmers producing real honey can’t charge high enough prices to make a profit. They’re getting beaten out in supermarkets, so many local beekeepers are being forced out of business. By paying slightly more for local honey, we’re supporting our local beekeepers.
It’s better for the bees
Often, local beekeepers have to cut corners or resort to unethical and unsustainable beekeeping practices in order to produce a higher yield at a lower cost. But when we pay the right costs to the right people, we’re encouraging the right values and practices—which keeps more bees safe.
Each honeybee produces only about ¼ of a teaspoon of honey in their lifetime, which means that a bottle of honey is the product of almost 1 000 bees’ entire life’s work. That’s a lot of input from bees and beekeepers alike, so we should be paying a price that reflects that. And when you’re buying from a farmer that’s caring well for his bees, or an organisation like us who uses all profits to create more safe home for endangered bees, then it’s a cyclical system: buying real honey makes for happier, healthier bees, which in turn produces more great honey!
It’s better for you
Think about sourdough bread versus white bread. Most of us are willing to pay a bit more—or even up to twice or three times as much—for a loaf of bread if we know that it’s good quality, whole wheat, preservative-free bread, like the sourdoughs, fresh ciabattas, and seed loafs we like to pick up at the weekend market. We’re willing to pay a higher price because we know the bread is fresh, made with high quality ingredients, and is healthier for our bodies. The same should be true of honey. We should be willing to pay more for high quality, artisanal, raw honey than we are for cheap honey with a whole lot of additives—especially when that raw honey is coupled with the many health benefits derived from local fynbos, naturally infused by the bees into the honey.
Real honey naturally varies in colour, taste, and texture, depending on what the bees are pollinating at the time. As consumers, we typically expect our products to be the same every time we buy, so big grocery retailers are putting pressure on farmers to create a consistent product, which forces them to start blending, heating, and filtering their honey and including additives. If we can stop assuming that honey will always be aesthetically consistent, then we can get back to real—and enjoy the incredible variety of flavours and textures that honey from different regions, seasons, and flora can be.
Right now, we’re charging only 100 Rand for Honeybee Heroes honey, but someday, with more consumer awareness and education, we’d love to see all honeybee farmers in South Africa being able to charge quite a bit more for their artisanal honey—up to R250 or R300 a bottle—to better reflect the love and care that our beekeepers put into each and every bottle.