When we first started keeping bees, many friends and family wanted to buy honey from us. In the beginning, we didn’t have any extra, but after a while, we had more than our family could use and we decided to sell some. But we needed to make sure we were selling the honey legally and had a competitive honey price.
The first thing we talked about was if we really wanted to be in the honey business. The Internal Revenue Service has very specific guidelines about what constitutes a business and what is just a hobby. However, a hobby that earns income still has to report the income, just like a business.
We decided that we’re not interested in becoming a large honey business; we just want to keep some hives and sell our excess to friends, neighbors, and co-workers. In most states, this is called small-scale beekeeping and has fewer regulations than commercial beekeeping. But there are still some regulations.
Each state has its own definition of what makes a small-scale honey business. You can find out your state’s regulations by contacting your state health department or your county extension agent. In Texas, a small-scale beekeeper is one that produces less than 2500 pounds of honey, sells directly to the consumer, does not sell wholesale or online, and the honey is from hives the beekeeper owns and manages.
Because honey is a food, it must be labeled correctly. The FDA requires these four things on a honey label.
- First, the label must have the word “Honey” on it, you can use “Pure Honey” or “Raw Honey.” If the bees are foraging, you can put “Wildflower Honey” on the label. If the bees are pollinating a crop, you can put that crop name on it, such as “Clover Honey” or “Peach Honey.”
- If you add anything to the honey, corn syrup for instance, then you have to label the honey as “Honey Product,” “Honey Food,” or “Honey Flavored Syrup” but not just “Honey.”
- The weight of the honey must be on the lower third of the label and in both ounces and grams.
- Your name, address, email, and phone number should also be on the label. This helps customers contact you when they need more honey.
In addition to these four things, a small-scale beekeeper will need to disclose that the honey was packaged in a facility that isn’t inspected according to state guidelines.
Although it’s not required, most beekeepers will add a label stating that honey should not be given to children under 12 months of age. It’s a prudent thing to add.
If you are going to sell honey online or wholesale, you need to register with your state health department, your local health department, and the FDA as a food facility. If you want to talk to someone face-to-face and have them help you navigate these government agencies, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your local county extension agent.
In order to sell honey, it must be harvested first. Honey can be sold as “comb” honey which is honeycomb that’s cut into chunks and still has the honey in the comb instead of being extracted. If you don’t have an extractor, or if you have top bar beehives, this is a good option.
Another option is to build a DIY honey extractor to extract the honey so you can jar it. You can still put a bit of honeycomb in the jar for decoration or to help differentiate your honey from other honey.
After extracting the honey, you’ll have beeswax that will need to be processed. Filtering beeswax doesn’t have to happen right away, but don’t neglect it as it can be another source of income.
Even if your state doesn’t require you to process your honey in an inspected, dedicated area, you should follow good health practices while processing the honey. Keep the area clean, wash your hands before handling the honeycomb, wash the extractor and jars in hot water and let them completely dry before using them.
Setting honey prices is one of the hardest parts of having a homestead business. You want to charge enough that you can recoup some of your time and financial investment but not so much that no one will buy your product.
This is where a little market research will come in handy. Go to local festivals and farmers markets and see the honey prices of other beekeepers. There might be a fairly large range of honey prices but it will give you a good starting point.
Price is about quality, quantity, and perceived value. If you’re using organic practices in your apiary and not heating the honey to help it filter faster, you can price your honey on the high end of the range. Using organic practices and not heating the honey makes your honey higher quality than honey that has been heated and treated with chemicals.
If there are many beekeepers selling honey in your area or if it’s just been a really good year for the bees, the surplus will mean lower honey prices. If your area doesn’t have many beekeepers or you’re experiencing a drought, prices will probably be a bit higher.
Perceived value is a real thing, but it’s hard to define. It’s basically the value of a product in the mind of the consumer. Some of this is based on what the consumer values and some is based on the product’s presentation. For instance, if the consumer believes that plastic is harmful to the environment, he’ll be willing to pay more for honey in glass bottles. For this consumer, the perceived value of honey in a glass container is higher than the perceived value of honey in plastic – even if it’s the exact same honey.
The best way to market your homestead products is to be excited about them. We’ve found that when people find out that we keep bees, they are full of questions such as, “Is honey vegan?” or “What can I do to help bees?” When we take time to answer their questions they walk away with a positive opinion of us and our bees. This adds to the perceived value of our honey.
Once you’re ready to expand beyond friends and family, farmers markets and festivals are good venues. Many towns in our area have something called “market days” which is a cross between a craft fair, a junker’s market, and a farmers market. These are fun because they have a diverse customer base.
Whenever you’re selling at one of these fairs or markets, you want to be sure your booth is nice looking and that it looks full. If you don’t have enough honey to make your booth look interesting, you could consider selling eggs or other homestead products in your booth.
You also want to be sure that you can conduct business. This means you need change for cash customers, a way for people to pay with a debit or credit card, business cards, pens and paper, receipt book, and shopping bags. It’s also good to have a sign-up list where potential customers can sign up to receive emails from you.
Every market has its own set of rules. If you want to be allowed to have a booth in the future, you need to be sure that you’re following all the rules.
Selling honey and beeswax products is a great way to supplement your income by doing what you love. It can also be a step toward a full-time homestead income. The important things to remember are that you need to be sure you’re selling legally, setting a good honey price, and giving customers the service and value they expect.
What are some of your tips for setting honey prices, labeling, and marketing?