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Creating a Buzz: How a small, family-owned New Zealand honey business is tackling the international market in a unique way

Five years ago, Hunt and Gather Bee Co. owners, Hannah and Rory O’Brien, sold their house and moved into a 36m2 section of their honey shed with their two young children, to help make ends meet as they launched their small business.

Today, the couple produce a range of raw, sustainable honey from their base near Raglan and sell to 45 retailers throughout New Zealand, including selected New World supermarkets, Farro Fresh, Commonsense Organics and Moore Wilson’s. Their focus on ethical treatment of their bees and their commitment to sustainability was highlighted in their appearance on Country Calendar last year, and they’ve won numerous awards for both their honey and their business achievement - including a gold medal for their most popular product, their Kānuka honey.

Now entering their sixth year of trading, the young family (along with a new addition, one-year-old Mickey) is looking to equity crowdfunding to support them into a new business phase, international sales.

“We’ve always done things a bit differently,” says director Hannah O’Brien. “You have to when you start a small business with big plans and you’re relying on cash-flow alone to grow.”

The couple used crowdfunding platform PledgeMe in 2018 to fund their earlier growth with a project campaign and are now looking to sell shares in their company in a similar way. “The last time that we used crowdfunding, we were overwhelmed by the support from our customers. Our goal was $12,500 and we raised over $15,000. We used that money to fund some of our early growth, bulk-buying jars and labels and a few small bits of equipment.” 

Hunt and Gather Bee Co. have grown their hive numbers by around 2000% since they began with just 16 hives in 2016, and their products have well and truly proved themselves on the domestic market. 

“Our sales are strong, the feedback from our customers is excellent, and we’ve increased our annual revenue by 340% since 2018,” says Director and Head Beekeeper, Rory. “But it’s our commitment to our environmental, ethical and social goals that we are most proud of. We’ve planted over 3,000 native trees since we began and we now have pest traps at a number of our hive sites. If we can continue to grow this business, we can continue to give back.” 

And now is as good a time as any. International demand for New Zealand honey is high post-Covid-19 and honey exports from NZ to Japan doubled from 2019-2020 to reach 36,700 tonnes (NZTE report, 2021). Interest in raw, sustainable honey appears particularly strong. 

“We realised this when we started to get international enquiries for our honey,” says Hannah. The company has fielded enquiries from Singapore, China, Japan, the UK, Malaysia and Germany, and the team are currently talking with potential partners in Japan and the UK. “We’re building relationships with potential partners who are truly on-board with our sustainability and ethical values. It’s important to us that our partners understand how we do business and are keen to support our way of doing things” reiterates Rory.

They have a unique approach to the international market. Hannah says “We love being a small business and we’re realistic about our offering. We want to take the high quality, niche product that we have and position it right, providing our future international customers with an outstanding product with full traceability and a great back story,”.

The company intends it’s offering to the international market will be capped each year, a move the O’Briens hope will keep their production sustainable to protect their bees and the land. This should also help to create demand and set their honey aside as a limited edition, niche product.

However, expansion into the export market is costly. This is where their equity crowdfunding campaign comes in. “We have some big plans for this year. We want to bring our honey processing in-house, with our own extraction and packing facility. We need to hire key staff and re-develop our packaging and marketing material for our export product. Obtaining finance can be difficult when you’re in such rapid growth and cash flow is tight, so in the end we settled on selling shares in our company. And who better to be our first shareholders than our own customers?” says Hannah.

Investment packages will range in value from $500 to $70,000. “We’ve had so much interest during our pre-registration that we’ve actually had to introduce a limit on the maximum amount that any one person can invest. We want to make sure that there are enough shares to go around for our crowd” says Rory.  The campaign aims to raise a minimum of $175,000 and up to a maximum of $350,000. 

“Over 180 people have already pre-registered their interest, with early indications of their preferred investment amount coming in above our maximum target,” says Hannah.

“We’re an example of how you don’t need huge financial backing to start a successful small business in New Zealand, and how you don’t need to be a large corporation to venture into selling on the international market. You need to be willing to work hard and back yourself. And if you can build up a crowd who love your products, they’ll back you.” Says Rory.

Shares in Hunt and Gather Bee Co. will be available at 5pm on Friday the 11th of June. 

Note: You need to be pre-registered as an investor on the PledgeMe website to be able to invest. Interested investors will receive the company’s Information Memorandum ahead of time if they sign up for a launch alert here:

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