A hive of industry to create a Jersey honey brand

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

Take another look, though, and the intricacies of this symbol—from the crown over its head to the Jersey card-carrying shield that represents its belly—quickly become apparent.

Designed by Carla Harris and Steve Turner, the logo’s features reflect not only the company founder’s attention to detail, but also Shaun Gell’s initial inspiration for his business.

‘The idea for Jersey Honey came about ten years ago when I was struck by the amount of publicity about the decline of Jersey bees,’ explains Shaun. “At that time, the population was being wiped out by a disease called American foulbrood, and reading all the posts felt like a cry for help.”

But while the story was close to Shaun’s heart, his knowledge of all things apian was almost non-existent at the time.

“I spent a year researching the situation and understood how important bees are,” he explains. “I quickly realized that they are essential to our future and from that point on, the story became even more captivating. I found that 30% of all our food is pollinated by bees, while also pollinating a wide variety of plants essential for preventing soil erosion and a different range of plants for medicine.

“Nevertheless, bee numbers worldwide declined by 60% as the species was caught in a perfect storm of climate change, land loss, disease, pests and parasites. With those facts at my fingertips, I knew their plight was incredibly important.”

The entrepreneur described his understanding of their role as a “big-bang moment” and was determined to “do something to help.”

With a background in hair and beauty, Shaun and his wife, Anita, had run hair and beauty salons for years and developed a range of styling products, which were sold in Boots.

“While we are not lab technicians, we have worked closely with manufacturers to develop a range of high-quality products,” explains Shaun. “When I started thinking about the bees, I discovered that there is no money in honey. There are no full time professional beekeepers on the island as it is very difficult to start a business from beekeeping. As a result, most beekeepers are retired or care for the beehives as a hobby.

‘The question then was how you could finance a ‘hobby’ so that young people could be encouraged to keep bees.’

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

“All I could think of was to add Jersey honey to a range of products and, after speaking with our manufacturers, they said the best place to start was with a hand cream,” he said.

Once the premise was agreed, Shaun and Anita spent a month working out the ingredients the cream should contain before finally perfecting both the recipe and consistency of their launch product.

“There was a lot of back and forth with the lab, but it was worth it, as the finished product won Product of the Year at the Pure Beauty Global Awards,” Shaun smiled.

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

“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. But 15 months after we came up with the concept for our shampoo, we still didn’t have the right mix. I was about to give up the product when a sample arrived and I knew from the moment I opened the box and smelled the smell, we nailed it.”

As the product range took shape, it took a little longer for the company name to match.

“From the start, we were determined to name the company Jersey Honey, because we’re not just trying to build a business, we’re trying to support bees and beekeepers and build a whole community next to the brand,” he said. ‘Thanks to the support of Jersey Business, we were finally able to register the name.’

Just when it seemed like all the elements were coming together, however, Shaun faced another challenge — this time in the form of a global pandemic.

“When Covid hit and developing further products became nearly impossible, we changed our focus and launched our bees-for-profit campaign, investing in more hives, beekeeping equipment and recruiting more beekeepers to our group,” he said.

With 11 hives in three locations, this community is now growing, with experienced keepers sharing their knowledge and expertise with those new to the endeavor.

“The Jersey bee population has stabilized at about 420 hives, but we’d like to increase this number and raise awareness of the importance of bees through our products,” Shaun said. “While the Jersey community is stable, the global bee population continues to shrink. In America, for example, six million hives were reported in 2014, this year that has fallen to 24 million.’

Shaun says part of the problem — and one that Jersey isn’t immune to — comes from the crops and flowers being planted.

“Interestingly, when you fly into Jersey, you look out and see a landscape that looks lush and green,” he explained. “But 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 that the bees can eat.” Fortunately, the farming community is working hard to change that by rotating crops with mustard flowers and borage, which not only support bees, but also hoverflies and butterflies.’

It’s an approach that 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. Touching one thread sends shivers through all the other subjects. We don’t just touch the web: we tear big holes in it.’

“This has always appealed to me and is the foundation for everything Jersey Honey stands for,” he said. “With our products, we want to build a business that is profitable enough to hire beekeepers so that we can not only support the environment, but also build the Jersey Honey brand outside the island.”

And with production starting to return to “normal” after the pandemic, Shaun is already focused on the next batch of Jersey Honey products.

“We are looking at the development of the cosmetics line, but we are now also venturing into food,” he said. ‘As well as jars of delicious Jersey honey – one of which was given to the Earl of Wessex on his recent visit to the island – we’ve just launched a range of honey-infused truffles, which I’m very excited about.’

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

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

Admittedly, if I was in Dragon’s Den and the dragons asked me how much money I spent to get to the position I’m in now, they’d probably say I’m crazy. But you have to have a dream and find a way to turn every no into a yes to make that dream a reality.’

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