Flow Hive is making a buzz in the small-scale commercial honey sector. First launched in 2015, the Australian beehive start-up has sold more than 60,000 hives to 130 countries, and boasts warehouse operations in the US, Canada, and the Netherlands.
“Europe is a big market for us,” co-inventor and CEO Cedar Anderson told FoodNavigator. “And within Europe, the UK is the biggest market.”
According to Anderson, the time is right for both increased interest and investment in bees. “Bees are on the agenda. Humans are now recognising the importance of bees in our food production.
“One-third of our food producing plants require pollination, and without our honeybees, we’d be in serious trouble. Imagine if one-third of food types disappeared from the shelf. That would be quite a disruption to humans…and to all the other species that require pollination to reproduce.”
Indeed, 40 years ago there were 200,000 active beekeepers in the US. By 2015, figures were down to 100,000. Cedar’s invention, which has inspired a new generation of beekeepers, is responsible for adding 10% to that figure.
From garden shed to crowdfunding success
Flow Hive was born out of a father-son team’s frustration for conventional honey harvesting methods. Aside from being long and labour-intensive, traditional honey harvesting techniques disturb the bees, Anderson told this publication.
Together with father Stuart, Anderson invented, and successfully crowdfunded, Australian beehive brand Flow.
Flow’s leading product, the 100% Australian made Flow Hive, reached its target of $AUD70,000 (€43,500) in seven minutes on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Two hours later, the start-up had become the fastest campaign ever in the world to reach $1m-worth of orders. Eight weeks later, Flow Hive had secured $12.2m in orders.
“It is still the largest crowdfunding campaign ever on Indiegogo,” Anderson recounts. “It’s really amazing that it’s a technology advancement in agriculture. Before that, it was smart watches and gizmos that held the top positions in the crowdfunding space.”
Flow Hive has attracted interest from both experienced beekeepers and novices. Having sold upwards of 60,000 hives to date, Anderson noted that half its orders have come from newbies. “A whole new groundswell of people were inspired to keep bees and harvest honey in this new way we invented.”
Flow Hive vs conventional honey harvesting
Prior to investing the Flow Hive, it would take Anderson a full two days to harvest honey from his 30 hives. Today, he simply turns a tap on his hive and the honey flows directly into a jar.
Conventional harvesting techniques are cumbersome, he explained. “You get in your bee suit, you fire up the smoker, you smoke the bees, you remove the honeycomb frames, and either brush the bees off or blow them away with a leaf blower.”
The frames are then taken to a processing shed, where the beekeeper will slice the honeycomb capping with a hot knife. The frame is placed in a centrifuge, the honey is extracted and filtered, before being dispensed into jars. The frames are then returned to the hive, “which again disturbs the bees”, said Anderson.
Flow Hive, however, enables beekeepers to harvest honey “in a gentle way”, he continued. “Without opening up the hive and disturbing the bees.”
Flow Hive’s innovation lies in a partly made honeycomb matrix with moveable parts. At the turn of a handle, the matrix forms channels for the honey to flow through into a trough, and out of the hive.
Honey harvesting is just part of a beekeeper’s role, Anderson continued. Producing quality honey also requires ensuring bees are healthy and pest-free. Flow Hive has added features to help beekeepers care for their colonies.
“Observation windows on the hive give the beekeeper, at a very quick glance, insight into how many bees are in the hive. Flow Hive also offers a cross-sectional view of the honeycomb, to tell beekeepers whether nectar is being collected or not.
“You can watch the bees deposit nectar with their tongues, which can be an educational experience for children who enjoy looking through the windows,” he explained.
The hives also house a pest management tray, where beekeepers can trap hive beetles. The tray is particularly beneficial to beekeepers in Europe, where varroa destructors (or varroa mites) can threaten hives. “It’s a useful tray for monitoring and counting those mites, to see if they are building up to numbers that could be detrimental,” said Anderson.
More bang for your buzz
Flow Hive honey producers have reportedly been able to charge higher prices for jars harvested using Anderson’s technique. The reason for this, according to the CEO is two-fold.
Firstly, similarly to single origin coffee, chocolate, or single malt whisky, Flow Hive beekeepers can harvest ‘single frame honey’. “It gives you more flavour retention,” explained Anderson. Rather than mix ten hives into an extractor, “which is like mixing all the different flavours of a kitchen together”, Flow Hive allows beekeepers to harvest honey from one single frame.
Secondly, Flow Hive honey requires zero processing. “We think that when honey is harvested the conventional way, it is exposed to a lot of oxygen. It is known that oxygen can oxidise some of those floral notes that make up defined flavours.”
In fact, Anderson argues that every time honey is processed – whether in a metal centrifuge, or through filtration, or pasteurisation – flavour is lost.
Research from the University of Queensland has backed up Anderson’s claims. In the study, a panel of sensory scientists tasted honey from both conventional and Flow hives that had been placed in the same location. According to the panel, Flow Hive honey displayed ‘fresher cleaner characteristics’ compared to that extracted through a commercial facility.
And consumers are saying the same thing, many of which are voting for Flow Hive honey with their wallet, said Anderson: “Consumers are noticing the difference in the purity of the flavour and the defined floral notes.” In fact, Flow’s clients report that their customers “only want Flow Hive honey”.
As a result, Flow has designed a label for honey producers to apply to Flow Hive honey jars as an added marketing point.
What is next in store for Flow?
Flow has been investing in troubleshooting for beekeepers, and plans to continue to do so via videos and online support for customers. “We want to solve as many of the beekeeping problems that we can,” said Anderson.
The company is also raising funds to support pollination around the world. One creative project involves upcycling Flow Hive offcuts into pollinator houses for solitary bees. “There are 19,000 bee species around the world that don’t form colonies, but are also important pollinators. About 10% of them are on the brink of extinction,” said Anderson.
Flow sells the hives and donates 100% of the profits to habitat protection and generation. “We are always working out ways that we can make a positive impact, create more habitat, and inspire people to look after our bees that are so important.”