At the Maine State Beekeepers’ annual convention, Deborah Delaney took the floor for a second time that day to present a talk that was entitled: “Honey Pricing & Marketing Risk Management Education for Honey Producers”.
Deborah told the crowd about yet another aspect of her research which involves scientifically identifying how to improve marketing of locally produced honey, which would in turn improve sales and education of the public sector regarding the benefits of honey and honeybees.
Domestic honey production has dropped in recent years, while the importation of honey from other countries has increased. Currently the majority of honey available in the United States comes from China, Argentina, Vietnam, India, or Brazil.
“Consumers need to understand the nuances of honey” Deborah said. Much like wine–honey can vary from beekeeper to beekeeper, region to region, and even from one season to the next. Beekeeping is an art, and every honey harvest is a masterpiece to be revered (my personal opinion).
The recent trend in buying local foods and products, and in supporting local farms, offers beekeepers a perfect combination of events for promoting their local honey. Deborah’s team received a grant to investigate consumers’ motives when purchasing honey, to determine how they could help beekeepers better sell their products.
They began by testing the effects of informational hand-outs on the consumers’ willingness to pay for local honey. And Deborah discovered that when presented with these hand-out “blurbs” consumers were willing to pay 97-cents more per jar for the local honey.
Deborah’s team also investigated the effect that jar-style played on the consumer’s willingness to pay, and in fact, consumers in their trial study seemed to prefer the bear-shaped jar over the others, which also included hexagonal, tear-shaped, and swingtop bale jars (all glass–no plastic).
At this point Deborah initiated an interactive demonstration of consumers’ willingness to pay with our audience and produced a decadent honey-chocolate and a bottle of mead, both of which she’d purchased at the Honey Exchange in Portland after arriving in the state the night before. Beginning with the chocolate, Deborah asked for 20 volunteers to stand up and participate in an auction of sorts. The bidding began and increased at 50-cent intervals; each participant would remain standing until they reached a dollar value they were not willing to pay for the treat, then they sat down. Same deal for the mead except the bidding began and increased at 1-dollar intervals until the last person sat down.
Participants in the University of Delaware study were interviewed to learn more about their motives for purchasing and using local honey. 56% of their participants believed consuming local honey would help them cope better with allergies; and 70% believed it was good for their health. What’s more–Deborah discovered that with the recent media coverage of altered and diluted honey imported from other countries to stock the shelves of grocery stores, consumers expressed concerns about food safety as well.
The investigation into the various aspects of honey pricing and marketing is still underway, as Deborah experiments with packaging and labeling in her search to define what affects the average consumer’s willingness to pay more for locally produced honey. She’s looking for input from beekeepers, as she works to improve our methods and tools to help us take advantage of this perfect storm.
With the information researchers like Deborah are gleaning from these scientific studies, beekeepers can utilize the trend in buying local to sell our own locally produced honey, or to maintain our hives more sustainably. These studies are important to have done, and beekeepers should watch for the results so that we can know what works and what does not, so that we can take that information and apply it to our own apiaries–it may just be that the backyard beekeeper will save the honeybee industry for the entire nation.