A hive of industry to create a brand for Jersey honey

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AT first glance, the logo of Jersey Honey Company is – somewhat fittingly – a bee.

Look again, though, and the intricacies of this symbol – from the crown above its head to the Jersey-map-bearing shield which represents its abdomen – soon become apparent.

As well as epitomising the company founder’s attention to detail, the features of the logo, which was designed by Carla Harris and Steve Turner, speak of Shaun Gell’s initial inspiration for his enterprise.

‘The idea for Jersey Honey came ten years ago when I was struck by the amount of publicity about the decline of Jersey bees,’ explained Shaun. ‘At that time, the population was being wiped out by a disease called American Foulbrood and, as I read all the reports, it felt like a cry for help.’

But while the story tugged at Shaun’s heartstrings, his knowledge of all things apian was, at that time, almost non-existent.

‘I spent a year researching the situation and understanding how important bees are,’ he explained. ‘Before long, I realised that they are essential to our future and, from that point, the story became even more compelling. I discovered that 30% of all our food is pollinated by bees, while they also pollinate a wide range of plants which are vital for preventing soil erosion and another range of plants for medications.

‘Despite this, bee numbers globally were down 60% as the species was caught in a perfect storm of climate change, loss of land, disease, pests and parasites. With those facts at my fingertips, I knew that their plight was incredibly important.’

Describing his understanding of their role as a ‘big-bang moment’, the entrepreneur was determined to ‘do something to help’.

With a background in hair and beauty, Shaun and his wife, Anita, had spent many years running hair and beauty salons and developing a range of styling products, which were sold in Boots.

‘While we are not lab technicians, we worked closely with manufacturers to develop a range of high-quality products,’ Shaun explained. ‘When I started thinking about the bees, I discovered that there is no money in honey. There are no full-time professional beekeepers in the Island because it is very difficult to create a business from beekeeping. As a result, the majority of beekeepers are either retired or are looking after the hives as a hobby.

‘The question then was how you could finance a “hobby” so that younger people could be encouraged to take up beekeeping.’

The answer to this question lay in Shaun’s beauty roots.

‘The only thing I could think of was infusing Jersey honey into a range of products and, after talking to our manufacturers, they said that the best place to start was with a hand cream,’ he said.

With the starting point agreed, Shaun and Anita spent a month working out the ingredients that the cream needed to contain before finally perfecting both the recipe and consistency of their launch product.

‘There was a lot of backwards and forwards with the lab but it was worth it because the finished product went on to win Product of the Year at the Pure Beauty Global Awards,’ smiled Shaun.

Although the hand cream was the first product to hit the market, it was not the offer with which Shaun had intended to launch the Jersey Honey Company.

‘Perhaps unsurprisingly, given my hairdressing background, I wanted to start with a shampoo,’ he smiled. ‘When I have developed products for other companies, the end result is usually on the shelves within three months. However, 15 months after we had first come up with the concept for our shampoo, we still didn’t have the right mix. I was just about to give up on the product when a sample arrived and I knew, from the moment I opened the box and smelt the fragrance, that we had nailed it.’

While the product range was taking shape, the company name was taking a little longer to agree.

‘From the very beginning, we were determined to call the business Jersey Honey because we are not just trying to build a company: we are trying to support bees and beekeepers and build a whole community alongside the brand,’ he said. ‘Thanks to the support of Jersey Business, we eventually succeeded in registering the name.’

Just as it appeared as though all the elements were coming together, though, Shaun faced another challenge – this time in the shape of a global pandemic.

‘As Covid hit and developing further products became almost impossible, we changed our focus and launched our bees-before-profit campaign, investing in more beehives, beekeeping equipment and recruiting more beekeepers to our group,’ he said.

With 11 hives across three sites, this community is now growing, with experienced keepers sharing their knowledge and expertise with those newer to the pursuit.

‘The Jersey bee population has stabilised at about 420 hives but we are keen to increase this number and to raise awareness of the importance of bees through our products,’ said Shaun. ‘While the Jersey community is stable, the global bee population is continuing to shrink. In America, for example, there were six million hives reported in 2014, while this year, that figure has dropped to 24 million.’

Shaun says that part of the problem – and one from which Jersey is not immune – stems from the crops and flowers planted.

‘Interestingly, when you fly into Jersey, you look out and see a landscape which looks lush and green,’ he explained. ‘However, if you look at that same landscape from a bee’s perspective, the view is very different, with only a few areas planted with species which the bees can eat. Happily, the farming community is working hard to change that, rotating crops with mustard flowers and borage, which support not just bees but also hoverflies and butterflies.’

It is an approach which Shaun welcomes, as it reminds him of one of Gerald Durrell’s most famous quotes: ‘The world is as delicate and as complicated as a spider’s web. If you touch one thread you send shudders running through all the other threads. We are not just touching the web: we are tearing great holes in it.’

‘This has always resonated with me and it really underpins everything that Jersey Honey stands for,’ he said. ‘Through our products, we want to build a company which is profitable enough to employ beekeepers so that we can not only support the environment but also build the Jersey Honey brand beyond the Island.’

And, with manufacturing starting to return to ‘normal’ after the pandemic, Shaun is already focused on the next range of Jersey Honey products.

‘We are looking at developing the cosmetics line but we are also now venturing into food,’ he said. ‘As well as jars of delicious Jersey honey – one of which was given to the Earl of Wessex during his recent visit to the Island – we have just launched a range of honey-infused truffles, which I am really excited about.’

With his products now in a range of Jersey outlets, including La Mare Wine Estate, Holmegrown, Jersey Post, Alison’s and de Gruchy, Shaun’s next goal is to scale up operations sufficiently to reach the UK market.

‘I want our product to be distributed across the UK,’ he said. ‘It would mean setting up more hives and recruiting more beekeepers but it is feasible. If you look back at the history of the Jersey Milk Marketing Board, it started with farmers looking after a handful of cows, and look how Jersey Dairy has grown. That is my vision for Jersey Honey.

‘Admittedly, if I was on Dragon’s Den and the dragons asked me how much money I had spent to reach the position I’m in now, they would probably say that I’m insane. But you have to have a dream and you have to find a way of turning each no into a yes to make that dream a reality.’

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