Why I Love Savannah Bee Company

Words of wisdom on the farm.

[The short answer– they are brilliant marketers worthy of emulation, they respond to very detailed inquiries about their products in a timely manner, they make cool products.]

Okay, 2 bits of guiding wisdom we use on the farm.

1. Success is the progressive realisation of a worthy ideal.

2. DON’T poke the bear.

The former is self-explanatory- it’s just a positive outlook on life. The latter needs some explaining.

My mom is a great woman. She has very distinct, conservative ideals of her preferred way of life and the reality around her. Very often they run contrary to (just about) everything I do.

So to help me from getting caught up in petty disagreements over whether one should wipe down the walls in the shower after bathing (even if someone is in the queue to shower in the next 5 minutes), or even how to brew properly a pot of coffee, my brother Chad drew me this image here- the stick figure poking a bear with a stick.

Well, I’ve always been a visual learner and the image sticks. It reminds me that if I escalate an argument I’m only going to embolden the aggressor, provide fodder for their own confirmation bias, and leave everyone with a sour taste in their mouth and a bad mood for a day or so.

I’m all about peace. Peace and Love. Peace and Love. Peace and Love, as Ringo Starr would put it. Life is too short for petty disagreements. There are emotions. There are opinions based on those emotions. And then there are facts. And the facts are unerring, if provided by a reliable source. It doesn’t mean much to the lamb if the wolf says to the shepherd “It’s okay, I’ve got this, go take a snooze.” If my company isn’t ruffling a few feathers or making waves in our industry, then we’re not doing it right. To be effective at creating positive change, you have to challenge the status quo.

The other day we (the Royal ‘we’ meaning “I, Chase”) raised questions about one of the largest speciality honey retailers in the US- Savannah Bee Company on our Facebook page- follow the comments here. I met the founder of this company at his booth at the 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show in NY and I’ve been following them ever since. My points were basically that this very attractively marketed and cleverly branded company is, at the end of the day, placing their label on someone else’s honey. Much like Starbucks roasting their coffee for Costco under the Kirkland Signature label or the Cabot Creamery (1200+ NY and VT dairies under the same brand), Savannah Bee Company is the premier selling platform for probably several dozen honey producers in the Southeastern United States.

So I made my points in the public forum that is Facebook- making the same remarks I’d ask if I called up their customer service line. The points were as follows:

1. Ted, the owner/founder of Savannah Bee Company, is a personal entrepreneurial hero to me.

2. Their product FAQ page doesn’t describe what qualifies their honey suppliers as “responsible beekeepers”. They just state it without saying what makes their beekeepers responsible.

3. Conventional beekeeping includes activities like long-distance pollination, feeding bees artificial nutrition in the winter months, and using pesticides, miticides, and fungicides on the hives to counteract honeybee illnesses. This is the way most honey packers produce their crop. And it runs in a different direction than non-chemical IPM, which for raising a colony of honeybees includes supporting natural immunity in the hive, encouraging a smaller honeycomb cell size to reduce incidence of mites, and to just bag it if a hive is infested with disease or invasive pests rather than treat them with really harsh toxins that harm the bees, taint the honey, and convey unknown damage to consumers of the resultant honey.

4. That Savannah Bee Company no longer keeps their own bees for the purposes of bottling; their hives produce some honey, but certainly not nearly enough to fulfil a fraction of their orders- their company hives are primarily for show, I’d imagine, as part of their visitor’s tour.

They have removed themselves from the production process and have chosen to horizontally expand their business rather than vertically integrate their operations- meaning, someone else is making the honey that they stick in their bottles with their labels. Rather than choosing to control their quality in-house, they added in room for an unscrupulous honey producer (such as a cross-country pollinator, for whom honey is a by-product of the pollination business) to mistreat honeybees and adulterate honey- either by their own actions or by buying their honey from foreign sources as a wholesaler, then reselling the bulk honey to Savannah Bee Company as their own.

I’m not implying that their honey suppliers are doing these things or that they are doing anything wrong, I’m just remarking that for $25/lb of raw honey, I’d expect it to be relatively free of pesticides and coming from bees that haven’t been worn ragged by criss-crossing the country with only a buffet of mono-culture pollen to munch on. At $24/11oz I’d expect to know which frame, of which honey super, from which hive, from which apiary my raw comb honey is coming from. That’s $2.18 an ounce- almost the price of a gallon of gasoline.

Considering a hive at full production can produce anywhere from between 50 and 200 lbs of excess honey each year (based on management techniques), Savannah Bee Company is making their money on the retail end of honey production. I can tell you that it doesn’t cost nearly $2.18/oz to produce, package, sell and distribute honey. The honey farmers are likely selling to them at a contracted rate well-below market value (remember that pollinators have honey as a by-product of their work- they just need to clean out their equipment at the end of a season and if there wasn’t a market for honey products, they’d probably just trash it).

5. They use an unspecified German lab to analyse their honey, for previously unexplained reasons and don’t publish the results. They just say that they “confirm its precise composition, purity and quality”, which if you’re following FDA/USDA regulations, just means colour, clarity, moisture content, etc.- nothing of whether the honey has significant levels of pesticides.

UPDATE: On 21 Oct 14 Savannah Bee Company responded to our questions on Facebook and gave a decent account of why they chose a German honey analysis lab [1976 Purity Laws that likely exceed that of EU/USA regulations], as well affirmed that they also use other US labs, and will soon be posting the results on their website.

6. In their About Us Vimeo video at 4 minutes 50 seconds you can see Ted and one of Savannah Bee Company’s associate beekeepers standing next to a flatbed truck of green and black 55-gallon steel liquid shipping drums. These drums are industry standard for bulk transport of filtered, liquid honey. I only raised question as to whether they have discrete Bills of Lading that prove that those containers were filled at their origin at the apiary and didn’t come in from overseas on a cargo ship from Asia where much of the adulterated honey products are entering the country.

Savannah Bee Company claims their honey isn’t heat-treated. One can only imagine that unheated honey takes a while to deposit into steel drums. Usual industrial honey packers heat the honey and ultra-high filter it for the purposes of easily transmitting it through pipes for pumping into shipping drums. Cold honey with wax or pollen tends to build up and clog pipes in bottling plants. Heating is a convention that allows transmission of honey throughout a factory while destroying the vital nutrients in the honey itself. Again, not saying they do this, but the presence of steel drums gives you an idea of the kind of scale these apiaries must be running to move that kind of volume in honey. It’s hard to say they “are not that big of a honey business” when you are at industrial production scale.

17 Oct 14- Received soil sampling kit from Dairy One/Cornell University testing labs. These results, taken in the late-Autumn, will determine what, if anything, needs to be done with our farm’s soil to improve the growth of the plants we are plotting out (namely apples, wine grapes, lavender, mints, Small American hops)

6. Griffin CornersChasing Honey Farm is committed to providing customers the unique experience of super-premium honey products. If we’re going to charge you top dollar for a bit of the sweet life, we’re going to give you the proof to back up our claims. For us this means soil testing our apiary foraging land in the autumn, sampling forage in the spring, and when we drop a water well next year, regular water testing, and honey analysis quarterly. This way, you know exactly what our bees are eating and drinking, what kind of pollen is making up your honey, and more importantly, what are the excruciatingly minute details of nutritional value and presence of other chemicals that really do make the difference between supermarket honey and speciality super-premium honey products.

That’s it. Yes, a few jabs at what looks to me like the biggest speciality honey retailer selling their products at a premium without providing any concrete evidence that they are in fact selling premium products. A beautiful website, fancy labels, attractive store front, and gorgeously packaged honey doesn’t make the honey any better than a gallon of fresh, local honey bought at the farmer’s market for $25. If you want to sell honey at those prices I demand to know where the honey is coming from and how the bees producing the honey are treated. Ask the necessary questions and receive the appropriate responses.

Screenshot from 2014-10-22 09:47:05b

A screenshot of Savannah Bee Company’s tactful and explicit response to our very discerning questions about their product origin and supply chain.

And Savannah Bee Company gave us a taste of their commitment to honest, natural products today in their Facebook comment. I’m glad the big guy can take a few minutes to coordinate a more-than-adequate response to the little guy. Nothing vicious or harmful was meant by our comments, just a straight line of serious questions about their business practices and the true origin of their honey products, which come from a variety of sources and suppliers throughout the Southeast and Idaho, in the case of the Winter White Honey.

Perhaps because I’m freshly educated on the latest in honey science or because I’m passionate about the environment- sustainable agriculture, organics, non-chemical pest management, holistic nutrition and traditional healing; I don’t think it’s too much to ask whether Savannah Bee Company knows what they are bottling. And based on their response to our Facebook post, it seems that they have acknowledged the need for more education on their end so that their customer service staff are more accurately able to answer these very discerning types of questions. It seems like we will be seeing the German lab analysis results on their website shortly. And for that I’m glad that I was able to initiate a service to their consumers that helps them better discern whether their honey is what they want to be purchasing. If you’re buying honey at a premium, you expect a premium product.

My only hope as a nascent beekeeper and an impassioned ambassador of sustainability in all aspects of life is that Chasing Honey Farm and Griffin Corners and myself can grow and learn about beecraft from founders like Ted and his Savannah Bee Company. My only ambition with my business is to disrupt the conventional honey industry by challenging methods of production that involve harsh toxins applied directly to the hives and the multi-generational procedure of long-haul trucking millions of honeybees cross-country to pollinate our nation’s breadbasket. We need more honeybees and they need to be local. We need to change the way we use honey as Americans- utilising this ancient food to its full potential as a healing, restorative substance rather than just a tea sweetener.

I encourage you to peruse Savannah Bee Company‘s offerings. Their website is spectacularly curated and I recommend it to all. Links from our page to their delicious content will abound over time. These guys really know what they’re doing when it comes to branding, marketing, and selling honey in an industry where so many conventional honey packers wrongfully up-sell their by-product as better-than-average honey. My whole purpose in owning and operating Chasing Honey Farm is to enable communities to create, sustain, and expand the presence of naturally-raised, chemical-free honeybees in America and eventually abroad.

Our pollinators are in trouble. And it’s mostly the fault of big agro-business that has brought the key to one-third of our nation’s harvest to the brink of unsustainability. If the honeybee population fails, people will starve. At home and abroad. The United States in a post-WWII era of petrochemically-derived pesticides and fertilizers has grown to support the nutrition of the 319 million Americans and everyone else who benefits from our country’s exports, either commercially or in the form of foreign aid. Without the honeybee in sufficient numbers, our country, now only 2% of which are employed in farming, will suffer materially.

Griffin Corners is stemming the tide by encouraging local co-operative apiaries; educating the nation about backyard/urban rooftop beekeeping, and the importance of honey and honeybee products. If I wanted to make gobs of money, I’d take my honey from anywhere I could find at the cheapest price and use my branding magic to stick it in a nice bottle with a fancy label. If I want to help sustain the nation’s pollinator population, I have to accept that I won’t be as profitable as our competitors.

Again, I love Savannah Bee Company.
I just don’t agree 100% on how they go about making money or honey. They, like so many other speciality foods companies, could be doing more to support their region of hard-working honeybees. I enjoy the fact that they have a charity fund that goes towards these causes. I just wish they took on the charge of raising their own bees naturally and in a chemical-free, sustainable manner, that respects the honey and the honeybee.

I welcome discourse in the forum provided on our Facebook page. I never delete content unless it is criminally offensive. This is a free world where ideas are exchanged openly and I welcome comments in the affirmative or the negative. This doesn’t mean I will engage those comments, just note that I am watching.

To answer the remarks of a few early commenters, Chasing Honey Farm doesn’t want to be like Savannah Bee Company. Sure, it would be nice to be as popular or financially successful, though popularity or wealth is never really a good reason to get started at anything anyway- especially beekeeping.

We’re after a long-range project of establishing branded co-ops throughout every region of the country to provide our customers with a range of floral varieties of honey flavours, chemical-free products, and innovative ways to buy honey and beehives. Chasing Honey Farm and Savannah Bee Company are working towards achieving two different goals, with some similarities in products and purpose along the way. I highly recommend them for beginners into the world of speciality craft honey. I like Ted and the type of person he sets himself out to be. And I look forward to more positive, constructive feedback from Savannah Bee Company and their followers.

So check them out. Consider this a mostly positive review of this company and their offerings. I tell it like it is. They don’t produce their own honey. Their products are delightfully novel and packaged beautifully. I’m ordering a few things today and will return with feedback. So this is where you’re going to go:

Ted Dennard | Owner | Savannah Bee Company | Savannah, Georgia, USA

Premium Honey, Honey & Beeswax Products, and Gifts

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22 October 2014

With kind regards,

Chase W.
Head Beekeeper