Restoring trust in Australia’s honey industry following the ‘fake honey’ scandal that rocked the industry last year, is no mean feat. But Nathan Sheets a hobby beekeeper-turned-business owner from Dallas, Texas, touched down in Australia recently to do just that.
Sheets has been in the honey industry for 22 years after taking it up as a honeymoon hobby and later acquiring a small honey business. Nature’s Nate Honey Co. was established in 2012 and grew to become the number one American branded honey company.
You might be asking yourself how and why the Texan plans to restore transparency in Australia’s honey industry. Sheets struck a deal with supermarket giant Woolworths, which will see the retailer stock locally sourced raw honey under the Nature Nate’s brand.
“The honey industry in the US about 12 years ago, is kind of where the industry is in Australia today,” Sheets told Inside FMCG.
“We developed a good food safety testing methodology to help us breed confidence with consumers that we’re bringing the best honey to them that we could.”
Since partnering with Woolies, Sheets has been travelling around Australia, meeting with local beekeepers to taste and test their product.
I’m a highly relational person. So I want to know the people that we work with. Ultimately, I am the steward of our customers, so I have to be the chief skeptic,” he said.
“Even beekeepers really don’t know exactly what goes into their honey because they don’t know where their bees fly.
“We use the gold standard for testing. Intertek is a company in Germany that tests 100% of the honey that we purchase. We test the pollen to know exactly what plant the honey comes from. We test for antibiotics, pesticides, C3 and C4 sugars which would be from adulterated honey or a beekeeper feeding his bees to close to the period of time when the nectar is produced.”
After rigorous testing, Nature Nate’s uses flavour profiling to get the taste right, then gently warms it up and strips out the wax and bees before bottling, pollen and all.
“Personally, I believe that all the flavour in honey comes from the pollen. If you ever take raw pollen and pop it in your mouth, it’s like eating a flower it explodes in your mouth.”
Commercial honey is often filtered to give a longer shelf life. Sheets says “the more you take out, the longer it will sit” and advise consumers to keep their “raw and unfiltered” honey on the countertop to use more readily.
“We’re here to help instill confidence back into the honey supply and the food supply in Australia by transparency, of third party authentication. I guarantee you that we’re going to do everything that we possibly can to source the best beekeepers that produces the best honey, and that we’re going to test it and be transparent, to allow consumers to be able to have that confidence that we’re doing what we say we’re going to do.”
Sheets says there’s about 4000 different types of honey globally and 70 different eucalyptus trees in Australia that can produce nectar.
“All honeys are not created equal. You have some grapes that can make a $9 dollar bottle of wine, and some can make a $300 bottle; the same thing is going to be true with honey.”
It’s a well known fact that bees are in decline, so is the industry, as well as the planet, at risk?
“There’s always a need to do everything better, especially in agriculture. With the bee industry, the colony collapse disorder has been at the top of everybody’s mind. They don’t know for certain whether its cell phone towers, or whether it’s neonicotinoid pesticides. That’s why we invest in bee research and bee health to ensure the long term viability of pollinators globally.”
Bees impact about 70 per cent of all foods in grocery stores. While investment in research is paramount, Sheets says consumers can help by supporting the industry.
“The more honey that we eat, the more that we can pay beekeepers a good price for their honey, which allows for new beekeepers to come into the industry. It’s kind of an old man’s line of work.”
Nature Nate’s Raw and Unfiltered honey is now available at Woolworths stores and through Woolworths Online.