We are all passionate beekeepers, yet some of us have to (partially) make a living from this passion. So how does a beekeeper earn money?
In most cases, professional beekeepers live from the sale of bee products, namely honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly or from the sale of whole colonies or living queens. In this article, which is divided into two parts, we give an insight into the honey market. In this first part we will get to know possible sales channels and the relative prices of the honey market.
Here is the link to part two: How can I boost my honey turnover?
What is honey actually?
According to the EU Directive 2001/110/EC, honey is called «the naturally sweet substance produced by bees of the species Apis mellifera. Honey essentially consists of various sugars, in particular fructose and glucose, as well as other substances such as organic acids, enzymes and solid particles obtained during honey collection».
In Switzerland it is forbidden to add additives to honey and according to Italian law, honey as a mixture of different types of honey, i.e. those with different geographical and background or different flora, is allowed when labelled as «honey mixture».
Sales channels for beekeepers
As a beekeeper the question inevitably arises where you can sell your honey. We answer this question by an analysis of the various sales channels, their advantages and disadvantages and a price overview.
The price of honey depends on the sales channel as well as on the customer. As a reference price we take the average price of multiflorous honey with a water content below 18%. Industrial honey and mellizitose honey are not included in this analysis. The three most important sales channels are:
The sale via retail describes the direct sale of the beekeeper to the end customer, usually to private individuals. The three forms of retail sales discussed here are local markets, sales in a honey shop or online sales.
Sale at local markets
In order to participate in markets (village festivals, weekly markets, permanent markets) as a seller, a small participation fee and, depending on the case, a tax for the use of public space should often be paid to the organizer. We recommend that you contact the organizers or the city administration well in advance to find out about any fees that may apply.
The big advantage of this sales method is that you can sell a large number of products to different customers in a relatively short time, as these markets are often well visited. A disadvantage is that you need a sales booth that is adapted to the available space, which can vary between different markets. In many cases however, a beautifully decorated table is enough.
The selling price is usually slightly higher than in honey shops. But the pricing is completely with the beekeeper. Average prices in Switzerland are between 12-16 CHF per pound of honey.
This method is well suited for part-time beekeepers who do not want or are not able to pursue continuous sales activities, but still want to sell their own honey directly.
Sale in a honey shop
This refers to the sale in a small shop of one’s own, where other agricultural products (fruit, juices, herbs, flowers, etc.) can also be sold.
Beekeepers who have set up a centrifuge room or something similar at home, often combine this workplace with a small shop. Such a local shop or «farm shop» has the advantage of setting up a personal place according to your own wishes. Possibly, you can also organize events in this place. A farm shop is also a good way to maintain your customer base without much effort. The disadvantage lies in the relatively high fixed costs. Also, self-service shops depend on the moral and paying behaviour of the customers. Nevertheless, in our own shop, where we sell not only honey but also self-pressed apple juice, we are paid very honestly and almost never a franc is missing. Our shop is located in the village area, between Winterthur and Frauenfeld, in a rather rural environment.
The price for the sale in our own shop is about 11 to 15 CHF per 500g jar of honey. We recommend this method for professional beekeepers who have a certain amount of space available. If you are dependent on a certain customer base, you can expand your business with a permanent point of sale.
Online sales via e-commerce
The online sale can take place via an own shop or via a platform (e.g. Ebay, Ricardo, Amazon).
The advantage of having your own online shop is that it can be reached 24/7, wherever your customers are. Nowadays, the cost of using a simple e-commerce solution (for example WordPress & Woocommerce) is very low.
The disadvantage is that you have to take care of the shop maintenance and customer acquisition, so that it constantly generates sales. This includes issues like online marketing and web development. Credit card payments are usually subject to an additional 3% fee, which reduces the revenue a little.
We recommend selling via e-commerce to beekeepers who already have a broad customer base and a strong brand. This reduces the costs for returning customers and makes it easier for honey customers to buy. This method is also worthwhile for smaller beekeepers who have some experience in online marketing and website management.
Sales via existing platforms such as Ebay or Amazon eliminate the problem of having to deal with the technical pitfalls of your own shop. In addition, you reach a large number of potential new customers, but at the same time you are exposed to greater competition. The disadvantage of these platforms is the percentage of fees you pay and that you are dependent on a external service.
We recommend selling through these platforms to beekeepers who want to market their honey and reach a large customer base, at the price of slightly lower profit margins. Final prices vary relatively strongly, from approx. CHF 25 to CHF 40 per kilo, in various available honey jars (125 g to 1 kg).
In the end, selling honey over the Internet is not easy. It is an exciting sales channel, but the customers must finally decide for your honey at the desired price.
When selling via resellers, the beekeeper delivers his finished honey to a trader, who finally sells the honey to the end customers. Resellers are often relatively small, local traders and offer specialty products.
Normally the reseller periodically buys large quantities at lower prices. The final price of the honey in the shop then consists of the honey price of the beekeeper plus the profit margin of the trader. The orders vary strongly, in principle we speak of orders between 15 and 200 kilograms.
The advantage of this sales channel is the larger quantity of honey for a single order, combined with a slightly higher honey price compared to wholesale. In addition, there are specialist shops which, for example, publish your flyers, so you will also have a marketing channel at the same time.
The disadvantage is a lower price compared to retail and the loss of direct customer contact. The honey prices to the specialist resellers are in the order of 20 – 25 CHF per kilogram.
This method is worth it for all beekeepers who do not want to worry about marketing or distribution and do not want to deliver the honey to a wholesaler.
Wholesale distribution is the sale of large quantities of unpackaged honey, normally sold in 25 kg metal containers.
This channel makes it possible to sell large quantities up to several tons of honey without having to worry about bottling, labelling and selling. However, one has to accept a lower selling price per kilogram.
This sales channel is mainly used by professional beekeepers with a large number of bee colonies, who want to invest their time in the beekeeping work and not in the sale. The price is in the range of 13 – 17 CHF per kilogram in Switzerland.
Sometimes it is also possible to sell large quantities to beekeeper associations or other beekeeping organizations.
The choice of the appropriate sales channel depends on the preferences of the beekeeper. In the table below you will find an overview of the different sales channels. All data in this article are without guarantee.
In the second part of this article we learn more about the basic concepts of honey marketing, how customer acquisition and long-term customer loyalty can be achieved. If you have any specific questions on this topic, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am pleased to answer your suggestion in the coming article.
Here it goes to the second part: How can I boost my honey turnover?