Just Bee launch new raw vitamin honey

Joe and Andy launched their new range of honey during lockdown.

Joe and Andy launched their new range of honey during lockdown. - Credit: Archant

Joe Harper and Andy Sugden own the Manchester firm creating a buzz

Ron Harper tending the bees with son, Joe and Andy Sugden.

Ron Harper tending the bees with son, Joe and Andy Sugden. - Credit: Archant

They say honey is good for you thanks to its antioxidants, its natural antibacterial properties and its role as a healthier alternative to sugar. And for Joe Harper and Andy Sugden, it’s the natural ingredient helping their brand stand out from the crowd.

The friends and former colleagues found a gap in the market for a raw honey-infused fruity water: Just Bee, inspired by Joe’s dad and beekeeper Ron’s backyard hives in Ormskirk.

‘I was saying to dad that we should do something with the honey he produces,’ says Joe, whose grandfather was a beekeeper, too.

‘Dad is retired, so he wasn’t too interested himself, but Andy and I thought perhaps there was something we could do with the honey to create a healthy product.

Joe and Andy launched their new range of honey during lockdown.

Joe and Andy launched their new range of honey during lockdown. - Credit: Archant

‘We played around with a lot of different ideas and finally settled on a really refreshing, fruity drink with a drop of honey in it as a natural sweetener.’

Joe and Andy spent more than six months developing the idea, the brand and the concept, before launching the 100 per cent natural drink from their Wythenshawe base in 2015. They market three flavours: orange and mango, lemon and lime and summer berries, initially producing them on a small-scale with Ron’s honey and selling them locally at farm shops and delis around Manchester.

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Now the product is sold in high-end stores such as Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason, Booths and Waitrose, as well as Boots, The Co-Op and WH Smith. All recipe development is done in-house, Joe says, taking particular note of any customer feedback.

‘We’ve had other flavours in the past like apple and ginger, lemon and green tea, and blueberry,’ says Joe. The operations side of things is outsourced to a factory in Bridgwater, Somerset, from where the end product is shipped directly to customers.

‘It’s all about listening to customer feedback, whether that’s the stockist or the consumers,’ Joe says. ‘That’s in part what lead to the launch of our own-brand raw honey.

‘Dad gets asked left, right and centre about his honey but he’s a small-scale beekeeper with a few hives in his garden. We’ve way outstripped his supply – we use a number of beekeepers now – but it was always about honey and whether we could actually produce and sell our own honey, too.

‘Since we started, people have been saying: “The drinks are great but do you actually sell honey as well?” We’ve used our time during lockdown to launch a range of honey products enhanced with immune-boosting vitamins. It’s been going crazy.’

Each teaspoon of the vitamin c, vitamin b6, vitamin b12 and echinacea-infused honey includes 25 per cent of an adult’s recommended daily allowance of those vitamins (flavours so far include original, and lemon and ginger.)

But there’s one catch – bee numbers are dwindling and without the bees, there’s no honey. But that’s where Joe and Andy are already one step ahead.

Through their Save Our Bees campaign, the pair personally plant at least one bee-friendly wildflower per sale of each drink and pot of honey. And they’re encouraging customers to do the same by dishing out free packets of seeds through their website justbeedrinks.co.uk (all you need to do is send a stamped, self-addressed envelope).

‘It was really important for us that as well as creating a healthy product, we’d also give back to the bees,’ Joe says.

‘It’s just a nice, simple and practical way to help. One in every three mouthfuls of food we eat relies on plants being pollinated by bees and in recent years there’s been a global decline in bee populations, including here in the UK.

‘In our five years of trading we’ve helped plant more than five million wildflowers.’

It was perhaps a casual ‘no thank you’ on the hit BBC show Dragons’ Den back in 2016 that paved the way to the success the business is seeing today. After an hour-and-a-half’s grilling and an offer from dragon Peter Jones for all the money but double the equity, Joe and Andy walked away empty-handed.

‘I describe it as the worst job interview you’ll ever have,’ Joe laughs. ‘It’s probably the most nervous the two of us have been.

‘We tried to negotiate with Peter Jones but he wasn’t having it, so we politely said “thanks, but no thanks” and walked away. Although we didn’t end up working with any of the dragons, we got national publicity off the back of it and saw a lot more interest from supermarkets and a lot higher sales from customers, which was great.’

The next step is to get the word out there on their Just Bee honey, which they launched in June. Joe and Andy plan to work on the product development side of things and introduce new flavours – both in honey and drinks – as well as boosting their business online and re-balancing shop sales of the drinks after the hit of Coronavirus.

‘As far as we can see, we’re the first in the honey-infused drinks market and we’re very proud of that,’ Joe says. ‘The honey is our new little baby and the thing we’re focusing a lot of our time on right now.’

Lancashire Life readers can use the code LANC30 for 30 per cent off single pots of raw vitamin honey at justbeehoney.co.uk

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