Beekeeper buzzing



A collective of honey producers in Queenstown is shaking off the sting of fewer tourists and spreading its wings in local outlets.

Raymond Key set up the Local Honey Collective 18 months ago to support small-scale beekeepers like himself in the face of a nationwide glut of honey and collapsed prices.

The company behind it, Be Local New Zealand Ltd, is a ‘‘social enterprise’’ with the goal of sustaining local producers at a time when, manuka honey aside, making a living from honey is a challenge, Key says.

‘‘A lot of beekeepers are going bankrupt because of a collapse of clover honey prices.’’

What sets the collective apart is its members have contractually agreed to follow sustainable and ethical practices in which they put the health of their bees first, rather than treating their hives as a ‘‘production line’’ for honey.

After the loss of international visitors knocked sales, the collective’s refocusing on the local market, and Key hopes that being able to ‘‘tell a story about doing it the right way’’ will resonate with local consumers.

Under its ‘Be.’ label, the Local Honey Collective’s supplying local supermarkets New World, Pak’nSave and FreshChoice, Raeward Fresh, Four Square Arrowtown, the resort’s Night ‘n Days and other retail outlets.

It’s also gone from supplying three local restaurants and cafes to nearly 20 in the past 12 months.

In line with its sustainability credentials, all the honey’s sold in recyclable glass jars.

Customers get a discount if they reuse them, and 50c from the sale of every 250g jar is given to the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust.

Its latest initiative is a ‘pour your own’ option at the Arrowtown Farmers Market and two supermarkets.

After a successful career in global commodities that took him overseas for many years, the honey business is a change of pace for Dunedin-raised Key.

He and his wife moved to the resort from the UK nine years ago to put their young family first; he says he’s semi-retired from his former career — just doing enough to ‘‘keep the lights on’’.

Besides spending much of his time on community and philanthropic causes  he’s chairman of the Wakatipu Community Foundation and a trustee of the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust — he started keeping bees on his Ladies Mile property five years ago as a way of spending more time outside and less time behind a desk.

He now sees potential for the Local Honey Collective as a blueprint for regions throughout the country.