Welcome to the second edition of my new segment.
BEYOND THE BRAND!
Where I sit down and chat with business leaders in the food industry to find out more about the people that make these companies and brands tick. Hopefully we can get some insight into what makes their companies so great and gain a few helpful tips along the way.
Today I sit down and chat with Ben Merivale. Founder of 8 Frame Honey to get to know the man behind the brand.
Saba. Tell me a bit about yourself Ben and your background?
B.M. I have always loved being outdoors. Camping, hiking, gardening, walking the dog, whatever the task, being outside makes me happy. My wife and I moved from the ever expanding Sydney commuting times to the outskirts of Canberra to improve the quality of our lives and that of our future kids. We purchased a large block of land big enough for our kids to run around for hours and keep a few animals – or several thousand as it turned out. Prior to becoming a beekeeper and educator I ran a garden maintenance business. Working outside was great even though the freezing Canberra winter mornings were not so much fun. It beat working in an office all day! The business was successful and quickly expanded to several staff members and involved me working 6 days a week and often 10-12 hours a day.
My wife and I were fortunate enough to have a baby girl shortly after our move to Canberra and this changed my view on life. I sold the gardening business to become a stay-at-home dad and started 8 Frame Honey as a part-time business. I hope once my daughter is at school I can further expand the business and it will give me the freedom to have the optimal work-life balance.
Saba. What motivates you Ben?
B.M. Setting a good example for my daughter motivates me to try to do little things everyday to improve our lives and our planet. Whether that is taking time to have a meal as a family or reducing the amount of plastic waste our household creates. I remember watching a speech on YouTube of the incredibly talented Tim Minchin addressing a graduating class. In it he encouraged them to teach others, impart their knowledge and help other people learn. This idea has stuck with me and I get a great deal of satisfaction teaching others about how we can make small changes to live a more sustainable life. Bees have become my passion, without them nearly 70% of our crops would not be pollinated as effectively or at all. I want to help save bees from varroa mites – a disease killing hundreds of thousands of colonies every year. Australia is the only country fortunate enough not to have varroa mites yet. Our mono-agriculture techniques are also reducing the amount of variety in the diet of bees. It’s the equivalent of us only eating carrots for every meal. Carrots are good, but you need variety. So I try to teach people about planting bee friendly plants to help give bees more food sources. If everyone in Australia planted a 30cm square pot of bee-friendly plants 13,484,714 extra bees could be fed (quoted from Damian Appleby – The 53 top bee-friendly plants and trees).
It must be said that as a beekeeper you never stop learning and I am constantly looking at how I work my hives and what I could do continue to improve the health of the bees today and in the future. I believe if we all take small steps today to reduce our impact on the environment we can preserve the beauty of nature for our children and future generations.
Saba. What drove you to start your own business?
B.M. I love working for myself, working from home and the challenge of starting with nothing and trying to create a brand and products that people want to buy and be apart of. Running your own business is hard. There are many obstacles and plenty of easier ways to earn money. For me it’s about passion and drive. I am most passionate and driven when I’m building my own brand. I get a real buzz out of teaching other people and igniting their passion for beekeeping.
Saba. Why this business?
B.M. My wife bought me a course on how to keep bees as a birthday present and I immediately fell in love with bees. Since then I knew that a beekeeping and education business is where I wanted to spend my working hours. I am not overly interested in being a commercial honey supplier. Nor do I wish to cart truckloads of bees from farm to farm to pollinate crops. These are both big businesses in beekeeping. I wanted to take a different path and focus on inspiring and teaching others about the importance of bees. Educating people on how to keep bees, teaching others to overcome their fear of bees and watching the delight on the face of a person who tastes fresh comb honey for the first time are all amazing experiences I can only enjoy as a result of this business.
Saba. What sort of products/services do you provide?
B.M. We have three distinct product areas.
Firstly we sell products produced within a beehive including honey, honeycomb (honey still in the wax the bees make it in), beeswax and propolis. To complement this section we also sell handmade top bar beehives and bees to populate your new hive.
We also sell educational workshops. We run 2.5 hour and 5 hour beekeeping workshops from our apiary in Murrumbateman, 40 minutes north of Canberra and 3 hours from Sydney. We also run a course in how to make your own reusable beeswax wraps. Finally we offer a course in how to make your own furniture polish using beeswax.
Our final product area is handmade items made from hive by-products, predominantly beeswax. Our current range includes reusable beeswax wraps, beeswax furniture polish, melts to make your own wraps at home and a kit to make your own furniture polish at home.
Saba. For people who don’t know what propolis is like me, do you mind explaining what it is?
B.M. Propolis is made from tree resin (sap). Bees bring it back to the hive and convert it into propolis. They use it as a glue and seal up cracks and holes with in the hive. In warm temperatures it is sticky and it becomes rock solid in the cold. It has anti-bacterial properties and is used in alternative medicines as well as an additive in some foods such as chewing gum. It has started to be used cosmetics as well.
B.M. Our beekeeping workshops are our most popular service, just ahead of our beeswax wrap making course. Honey is our best selling product due to its mainstream popularity. We also regularly sell out of propolis.
Saba. What are your hopes for the business in the future?
B.M. I hope to expand the business to do more workshops in schools. I would love to teach the next generation about the importance of bees. To help them consider the use of chemicals in agriculture and find new and innovative ways we can reduce our reliance on chemicals and improve the way we interact with nature. We will also be investing a lot of time testing flavoured honey varieties this season.
Saba. Tips for anyone who wants to get into a food business?
B.M. Follow your passion. If you are passionate about your food business (or any business for that matter) it makes it much easier to get up everyday and work on improving your business. Align yourself with mentors who can guide you in the right direction. In food businesses regulatory requirements, food safety guidelines and council demands can be a headache, especially if you are new to the industry. There are mentors such as Business Enterprise Centres Australia who offer business-mentoring services to guide you through areas you have little experience in. I used a mentor to help me navigate the red tape of operating a home-based food business to ensure my kitchen set-up met council and NSW Food Authority regulations. I found such a service invaluable. It saved me a lot of time and gave me the assurance that my business was meeting all the food safety standards. Promote yourself. If nobody knows about your business it won’t grow. Instagram is a must for any food-based business these days. Make sure your posts are relevant to your business, you post frequently and tell a story about your business. Follow other food businesses to see how they make their Instagram posts relevant and stand out.
Saba. Where can people find your product / services?
B.M. The best way to purchase our products and services is directly from our website www.8framehoney.com.au. Our courses are run in Murrumbateman New South Wales (approximately 40 minutes north of Canberra and 3 hours south of Sydney). Murrumbateman is a well-known cool climate wine district with many attractions. We have created a guide to Murrumbateman on our website so you can make a day trip or weekend out of your visit to this beautiful area.
You can also purchase our products from markets in and around Canberra. Check our Instagram account @8framehoney for updates on when and where we are attending markets. We are also in the process of finding stockists for our products so watch this space!
Saba. What’s your favourite dish to have with 8 Frame Honey?
B.M. Honey goes well with all manner of foods – breakfast cereal, tea, cheese, bread and of course on its own. Whilst I am a Weet-Bix and honey guy for breakfast, I do love skewered pepper prawns with lime served with a honey vinaigrette. These quick and delicious treats can be cooked on the pan, grill or BBQ.
Saba. So lastly Ben, do you have any special offers for my readers today?
B.M. Of course! Enter the code “saba” at the checkout on our website and you will receive 15% of your purchase.
*Discount is valid until the end of October 2018 and not valid with any other offers.
There you go people, a look beyond the brand that is 8 Frame Honey!
BEYOND THE BRAND – 8 Frame Honey