Purity provides the key to success for SA honey producers

Fake honey? Consumers familiar with South Australia’s fraternity of artisan honey producers scoff at such a notion.

The provenance of locally procured honey has provided a commercial boon for a suite of SA honey producers for many years in global markets, with careful harvesting placing the authenticity of their honey beyond question.

When news recently broke of a substitution scandal affecting imported bulk honey, Buzz Honey in the Adelaide Hills was inundated with a host of endorsements from their loyal customers.

“Many customers immediately emailed us, saying that’s why they’ve been buying our honey for such a long time, because they know it’s pure,” says Buzz Honey managing director Annette Ferris.

“Our products have a clear paddock-to-plate story. We know all of our bees, the flowers they source nectar from, and every honey sourced from different sites is kept separate. Such attention to detail is our point of difference.”

Buzz Honey beekeepers in an orange orchard.

Local producers have promoted the provenance of SA honey through rigorous education of consumers. An important asset for Buzz Honey has been its “hive door” sales facility in Hahndorf’s main street.

With the retail shop featuring a glass-walled hive containing 20,000 bees, visitors observe how honey is made, then can taste different honeys sourced from different regions and tree blossoms: Bluegum from Adelaide Hills, Orange Blossom from Riverland, and Bush Mallee from the Murray Mallee district.

“The specific taste differences have taught a lot of people that true honey has a lot of individual character and depth of flavour that defies imitation,” says Annette.

Authenticity has long been a hallmark of Island Beehive on Kangaroo Island, one of Australia’s largest organic honey producers, selling up to 200 tonnes of honey each year to local and international buyers.

Proprietor Peter Davis built the reputation of the honey he produces around the provenance of the island’s Ligurian bees, imported from Italy by the SA Chamber of Manufactures in the early 1880s, which led to the 4500 square-kilometre island being declared a bee sanctuary.

Beekeeper and honey producer Peter Davis, left, is passionate about Kangaroo Island’s Ligurian bee species.

As a consequence, the bees that service Peter’s 1300 hives around the island are the last remaining pure bred Ligurian bees in the world – an exclusive aspect to Island Beehive production that Peter has energetically promoted.

“Our ‘Authentic Kangaroo Island’ brand has a special power to it,” he says.

“We export about 60 tonnes of honey a year, with 40 tonnes going to Japan.

Demand far exceeds supply every year, because people know that we sell true honey. We sell everything we produce, because of our honey’s reputation for purity, and there is demand for much, much more.”

Peter says Island Beehive has the ability to expand, and will do so when conditions are right to foster more queen bees and meet escalating demand.

“We can do this without compromising our quality or integrity, because what we do is built upon the strength of our relationships with farmers and landowners, to ensure we can accurately read the flora and the seasons to ensure the best possible quality honey.”

It’s a story consistent among SA honey producers. Humbugz at Kingston SE has grown steadily from a backyard hobby for David and Frances Curkpatrick into a business with national and export sales.

They tend about 400 working hives, with each hive capable of producing about 100kg of honey annually from Italian Gold bees located within a 60km radius of their production shed.

Frances believes that conscientious producers focused on such types of localised production are now in a very advantageous position.

Humbugz Honey is made in Kingston in the state’s South East.

“SA’s honey producers now have a great opportunity to promote the purity of our honey. If we work together, we can shine on a light on a great asset that we have in this state,” says Frances.

The provenance of SA honey is also taken seriously within the local hospitality industry, with the Mayfair Hotel in Adelaide’s CBD having its own hives on the rooftop.

Executive chef Bethany Finn makes an elaborate feature of the hotel’s own honey as part of the hotel’s extensive breakfast buffet, offering a variety of flavours, and even fresh honeycomb.

The Mayfair’s honey is also featured in the hotel’s signature Honey Trap cocktail at its rooftop Hennessy Lounge.

More honey innovations in SA are set to keep the local industry moving forward.

Buzz Honey received a $50,000 State Government Advanced Manufacturing Grant in March 2017, to develop freeze-dried SA raw honey crystals with SARDI.

The project will involve constructing a humidity-controlled processing room, with the results expected to enable SA’s pure honey to be used more widely in large-scale food manufacturing.

“Honey is not just honey,” says BuzzHoney’s Annette Ferris. “It’s a highly specialised ingredient that we still have so much to learn about. For us, honey is an adventure.”

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

[logooos_saved id=”13411″]


The island beekeeper and his pure passion for the sweet stuff

After years spent hanging around hives of hardworking honey bees, Kangaroo Island local Peter Davis is still fascinated – and never in fear – of the industrious insects.

“You become fascinated by their ability,” says Peter, owner of one of the country’s biggest organic honey producers, Island Beehive.

“If the conditions are right, they can be so gentle. I never wear gloves.

“I’ve had people who are allergic or afraid of bees and within three minutes their hand is comfortably covered in them.”

Peter David grew up around bees on Kangaroo Island, home to the world’s only remaining purebred population of the Ligurian honey bee.

After growing up on his family’s mixed-use farm on Kangaroo Island, Peter developed a soft spot for one of his homeland’s major differences – the Ligurian honey bee.

Kangaroo Island is home to the world’s only remaining pure strain of the Ligurian bee and is also the world’s oldest bee sanctuary.

The Ligurian bee, originally from Italy, was imported by the SA Chamber of Manufactures in the early 1880s and shortly after the 4500 square-kilometre island was declared a bee sanctuary.

Bees cannot fly the distance between the mainland and Kangaroo Island, meaning the island has remained free of bee diseases.

Peter, who grew up near the government apiary at Flinders Chase in the 1950s, has dedicated his working life to protecting the Ligurian bee and learning of its heritage.

Peter’s hives are scattered throughout the island.

“It’s really important that we make Kangaroo Island locals a part of the heritage and that they want to participate in it,” he says.

“Over the last 12 years there’s been a dramatic change of awareness in people around the world doing everything they can to protect all bees.

“But I think we can do much more.”

Learning how to breed queen bees from a young age, Peter continued his passion for beekeeping and producing honey products.

He first sent queen bees to Denmark in 1991, and two years later received a request from Sweden for 250 more.

In 1995, he sent another 250 queens and was fast becoming well-known among overseas apiarists.

Now the 71-year-old runs the Island Beehive factory in Kangaroo Island’s main hub of Kingscote and produces up to 200 tonnes of honey per year.

Ligurian honey has a delicate, subtle flavour.

“We export about 60 tonnes of honey a year, with 40 tonnes going to Japan,” he says.

“They’ve been our customer for over nine years, however, one of the best ways to export honey is by people coming through the doors and taking products home with them.

“You can’t take honey to New Zealand or WA, but you can virtually anywhere else in the world.”

Island Beehive has more than 1000 beehives scattered across the island and employs 14 people.

Kangaroo Island Ligurian Honey is sold in the factory’s shop and in other outlets across the island.

It’s also sold in 200L drums and sent across Australia and to Japan.

Peter’s honey has been known to support many other South Australian food manufacturers, including Spring Gully and B.-d. Farm Paris Creek.

“We created a demand,” he says.

“Ligurian bee honey tastes so much better than other honey because we have such a diverse range of flora on Kangaroo Island.

“We have species of mallee that aren’t found anywhere else in the world.”

So you wanna be a beekeeper?

TAFE SA is offering a short course in beekeeping on March 17 and 18, April 7 and 8, and May 12 and 13.

The two-day beginners short course at TAFE SA’s Urrbrae campus and beekeeping site in the Adelaide Hills covers topics including new hives, diseases, honey extraction and legal requirements.

For more information click here.

[mappress mapid=”237″]

Like this story? Nominate a story from your region.
Click here to nominate >>

These inspiring regional stories made possible by:

Major Partner[logooos_saved id=”5491″]Program Partners[logooos_saved id=”17589″]Major Media Partner[logooos_saved id=”5506″]