Beekeeper’s Naturals has been selling its flagship product, the B. Immune Throat Spray for nearly 6 years: They have reportedly sold over 1.5 million bottles.
Carly Stein, founder of Beekeeper’s Naturals, belongs to a girl who started out in 2016 at her local farmers market with a cardboard sign. She now runs a company that brings in more than $20 to $30 million in revenue, she says, and has seen continued growth.
This year, the company has launched a slew of new products: the B.Biome, Sinus Support and the Propolis Nasal Spray. But more than that, they’ve done a rebrand: New fun, bold yellow packaging emphasizes the purpose of each product (throat, nose, gut, sinus, etc.) along with an important detail – the amount of propolis included in each product, is clearly displayed on the display so customers know what they are getting. She hopes that this new packaging will clearly communicate the purpose of each product to consumers.
Stein embarked on this journey after quitting her job at Goldman Sachs. As someone who struggled with her health for years, she discovered the power of propolis, a substance the bees use to protect their hive by mixing beeswax and saliva. Turns out it’s also helpful for human health.
When propolis started to revive her health, she decided to build a company, which has since caught the attention of food industry investors like Sonoma Brands Capital, and celebrities like Cameron Diaz who have endorsed the product (and their money behind it too). ).
Stein, a Canadian, has had an affinity with bees and honey for a long time. But as she learned more about the world of propolis, she became an advocate of “sustainable beekeeping,” which she says goes beyond organics.
Since bees can easily feed on crops over a vast area, it’s difficult to make claims about organic honey, she explains. “Bees can easily fly to a nearby field and feed on those flowers. You can’t keep them on a leash. So making claims about organic products is difficult.” Instead, she turns to third-party testing to know if the bees have been exposed to pesticides, and the beekeeper, she says, tests all of their products in Canada (Health Canada, she explains, is “much stricter than the US”) on pesticide residues.
“And we’re the only company I know of that does that. This means that our apiaries are basically bee sanctuaries because our bees are not exposed to those toxins. Organic here does not mean glyphosate or pesticide free.”
Then she goes into the details of beekeeping: bees seal cracks in their hives with propolis, which they get from plant and tree resins. So it’s important that companies selling propolis-based products do so without breaking down this so-called immunity wall that the bees make.
“What we’re doing, instead of taking away that existing propolis, we’re putting a mesh cloth in their hives, which has holes in it. And the bees say, ‘Oh, holes!’ And they intuitively fill it with propolis, it’s very minimally invasive.”
While Stein started with propolis and honey from her native Canada, she now works with apiaries around the world such as Spain and Brazil. This makes for a difficult supply chain. She jokes that her Chief of Operations came from one of the iconic soda brands, and even he was amazed at how complex the company’s supply chain had become.
While taking care of the bees is an important mission, Stein must make sure that her products actually work. That’s why she has put together an advisory board of medical professionals, researchers and naturopaths who consult her about every product: they don’t always see it in unison, but she welcomes that criticism. “I want all of our products to be scientifically proven and effective for a large number of people. So it’s good to have people poking holes early on, if an ingredient can be problematic.”
For each product, the team turns to third-party scientific testing to determine whether an ingredient may be beneficial. For example, they found that buckwheat honey is as effective as dextromethorphan, a common ingredient in over-the-counter cough medicines, in reducing coughs. “So why use dextromethorphan when you can use buckwheat honey, and it has antioxidants and other benefits. That was the catalyst for that product. We used that study as a guideline and looked at specific dosages, amounts, extraction methods.”
In fact, she says, propolis has been and is being used in medical communities around the world, more so than here in North America. “It appears in an 18th century pharmacology book in London. And propolis is now used by hospitals in Poland for bandages. A friend of mine who is a doctor is researching how propolis can be used for MS (multiple sclerosis) patients.”
She’s not sold on anything “natural.” Rather, it must work and be safe for a large number of people, she clarifies. The Sinus Support, for example, uses bromelain, an enzyme commonly found in pineapple, to break down excess mucus; it has been used in several studies as an alternative approach to sinus care and has shown promising results. Likewise, the company’s probiotic includes propolis, which Stein says is beneficial for gut health, and paired with CoreBiome, a post-biotic derived from butyric acid (something our bodies already make when it breaks down fiber).
Still, it’s not easy to build a business that relies so heavily on nature. Some of its apiary partners have grown from 10 hives to more than 200. And there’s been some concern about whether all of these beekeeping activities are actually beneficial to the environment (plus honeybees aren’t native to North America). One of Stein’s arguments against is that since the apiaries she works with are supposed to be pesticide-free, they’re actually encouraging large tracts of land to go organic.
“All bees are extremely important pollinators. Honey bees happen to be the most efficient, which is why we depend on them for much of our food (1/3 of our food supply), and they also pollinate many flowering plants. Solitary bees are just as important. More than 30,000 species of solitary bees are known today, which, like honeybees, are negatively affected by pesticides. Our goal with Beekeeper’s Naturals is to manage bees in a pesticide free zone. This supports not only the honeybees we keep, but any bees or creatures that exist in the environment.
I am convinced that working with honeybees and adopting pesticide-free practices is important for our ecosystem. Reducing pesticides has a positive effect on honeybees, wild bees and humans. Any effort to create pesticide-free habitats should be a priority.”