Today is the five-year-anniversary of my professional career in the honey industry. I can still remember 20th August 2012, my first work day in the biggest Serbian company for exporting honey and my first position of a sales manager. I knew I was coming to a promising company, but I knew almost nothing about honey, especially not that honey is increasing in popularity in the global market, that there is less and less of it because of various natural and man-made impacts, or that Serbia is the country with excellent prospects in the production and export of this bee product.
I remember clearly that, after just a few weeks of work, I wanted to learn as much as possible about honey, about how it is made, what honey production is, and what about the challenges in its sale are. I started reading and, above all, consulting with one of the best honey technologists in Europe, Ms Dušanka Tošić, who personally analysed over 20,000 samples of all honey varieties from Serbia and the region. While writing “honey varieties”, I remember being amazed to discover that there are different varieties of honey. Many people ask me today how bees choose whether the will go to one flower or another. Actually, it’s not the bees that choose, but the beekeepers who position beehives during the flowering of certain plants, so that bees could collect pollen and nectar. What makes the things a bit simpler is the fact that not all plants blossom at the same time. Thus, acacia honey is collected in May, and sunflower honey in July. They are the two most produced honey varieties in Serbia. Apart from them, there are rapeseed honey, linden honey, and meadow honey.
The sad story about honey
Unfortunately, the story about honey also has its sad side. I read somewhere that honey and olive oil are the most counterfeit food products. The analyses of two most renowned laboratories in the world, located in a German town, Bremen, Intertek and QSI, discovered numerous honey counterfeits on the market of our country. Unfortunately, those analyses aren’t valid as evidence in our country, and thus, very often the appeals of manyorganiations, such as SPOS (Serbian Federation of Beekeeping Organizations) and the companies that don’t engage in such illegal actions, remained with no effect. Counterfeiting honey is present all over the world, to a greater or lesser extent, and is mostly done in two ways. The first one is the import of counterfeit honey that is produced in factories in China and mixing it with a certain percentage of natural honey, whereas the second way is direct mixing of natural honey with fructose or glucose syrups. In the company I worked with, about the two-thirds of the sales were exports, so we had plenty of opportunities to learn about the quality of honey and analyzing methods which are constantly improved in order to prevent the work of counterfeiters.
The look of the honey pack
An ordinary consumer is usually not familiar with the packaging of honey into jars. Beekeepers, after extracting honey from beehives, pour the honey into metal or PVC containers where they store it. After that, the purchasers collect it and take it to their storage. There, the honey is prepared for the process of homogenization, which means the conjoining of honey. After filtering and heating, the honey is poured into containers that can hold up to 20 tons of honey. It is, then, mixed in order to get a uniform series (batch, lot), poured into metal barrels of 300kg, and exported in that form in bulk primarily to Norway, Italy, and Germany, or transferred to the final product packaging line (jars, bags, etc.).
The process of filtering and heating honey is something I never liked. Observing a fantastic natural product passing through long stainless steel pipes and small filters is not pleasant. According to the domestic and EU regulations, it is allowed to heat honey up to 40 degrees Celsius, taking care that the HMF parameter (Hydroxymethylfurfural) stays lower than 20 mg/kg before pouring into jars, so that it would stay lower than 40 mg/kg in the market during the determined shelf life of two years. I later found out that even that kind of treatment of honey, which is legally allowed, actually destroys a part of enzymes and proteins that make honey the superfood.
At the end of 2016, at the Ethnic Food Fair in Belgrade, I met a young man and an experienced beekeeper Marko Mijajlović from Ražanj. A rebel deep in his soul and a great fan of nature, he brought to the fair a prototype of a product that he labelled as a mixture of raw honey and natural additions such as freeze-dried (fruit is frozen in a special manner in order to preserve natural ingredients) raspberry, apricot, plum, as well as cocoa, and organic ginger. I immediately pointed out to him that I thought his product wasn’t what he said it was, because it isn’t possible to mix honey with all those ingredients and get the perfect texture and rich taste. He just replied: “Exactly, but this isn’t honey, this is raw honey.”
Raw honey vs ordinary honey
After working for almost three years in the biggest honey exporting company in Serbia, I decided to quit the position of the General Manager and to start working as a consultant for honey in one of the largest companies for honey packaging in the world, located in the West Europe. I started reading and learning extensively, and I became particularly interested in raw honey that is different from ordinary (conventional) natural honey by being packed into jars almost untouched, directly from a beehive, and sold in that form, without thorough filtering and heating. I knew that in Serbia that type of honey could be bought only from some beekeepers, who, unfortunately, sell that honey with no analysis from German laboratories which are the only ones that can detect whether honey is 100% natural. A beekeeper can be the best-intentioned and never use antibiotics to improve the work of bees or never directly add syrup in the honey, but a bee flies in the diameter of 5 km and it cannot be determined with certainty, without the analysis from Intertek or QSI laboratories, whether the honey is correct or not.
Having learned about the knowledge and respectable beekeeping practice of Marko Mijajlović, I suggested that he should turn his ideas about raw honey with natural additions that would feed millions of families, especially children (older than the age of one) into a serious project. My friend, Milan Gujanica, a man with a master’s degree from the Faculty of Mechanics and the head of production in one large Asian company, joined me in that. That’s how we created Happy Honey, the only raw honey brand with a unique recipe and flavors that provide a new dimension of honey, analyzed in QSI laboratory in Bremen. Milan found the greatest inspiration in the fact that his start-up, Happy Honey, would offer superfood that his wife and he could offer to their children knowing that in a jar of 250 gr there is perfection produced by 30,000 bees per a beehive.
The reason why we added flavours in raw honey that has a splendid taste on its own will be revealed in some of the future posts. My message to all those engaged in a business activity is to seek for the ways to innovate it and to pay special attention to bringing more value to their customers through research and development.