The modern world faces the largest extinction of species of the last 60 million years, and bees are in danger of becoming one of them.
“Bees are much more important than we think,” states Greenpeace. “The production of food all over the world and terrestrial biodiversity largely depend on pollination, a natural flower-fertilizing process which, in turn, produces fruit and seeds.”
“Honeybees and other insects like butterflies and bumblebees are among the species that contribute greatly to this process. However, their populations are shrinking rapidly,” adds the environmental NGO.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warns that 40% of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, are threatened with extinction.
In light of this, Mexican entrepreneurs have founded startups which, in addition to working as a business and doing our country proud, are socially and environmentally responsible, especially when it comes to supporting local beekeepers and saving bees.
Without leaving home
There are thought to be some 20,000 bee species in the world, 10% of which inhabit our country, according to the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO: Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad).
This number includes Apis mellifera, also known as the domestic bee, which produces the honey we are used to consuming.
In Mexico, there are 42,000 beekeepers taking care of 1.9 million hives of this type of bee, which, on average, produce 55,900 tons of honey at an estimated worth of 1.9 billion pesos a year, according to data collected by the Agrifood and Fisheries Information Service (SIAP: Servicio de Información Agroalimentaria y Pesquera).
This level of production positions Mexico as the third-largest honey exporter in the world even though its own per capita annual consumption is only 200 grams.
These are the advantages and opportunities that startups like A de Abeja and Abeja Reyna encountered, without leaving the country, when setting up profitable businesses that reduce the threat of extinction to bees. Let’s get to know them:
A de Abeja
Arlette Gómez, a graphic designer from Mexico City, grew up eating “real” honey straight from the beekeeper. In 2014, “as fate would have it” she tried honey “from the supermarket” and realized that there was a huge difference in quality.
At that time, Greenpeace started talking about the extinction of bees. This spurred her, with her characteristic passion for environmental and social issues, to look for ways to help save this species with the help of “real honey”.
Gómez started doing research and realized that “beekeepers are abandoning the business because it isn’t very profitable,” she said in an interview with Tec Review. “Why don’t they get paid very much? Because Mexico exports a lot. And who does the exporting? Nine middlemen, and they’ve spoiled it for beekeepers. The money isn’t shared out fairly. And that with Mexico being the third largest honey exporter in the world.”
“So, we may produce a huge amount of honey but per capita consumption in Mexico is only 200 grams a year,” she added.
That’s how the idea of creating A de Abeja, with the objective of “our consuming real Mexican honey,” was born. But when her project was under way, the now founder and director of this startup came across a new opportunity.
“I approached the beekeepers and told them that I wanted to sell their honey in Mexico City. They answered, ‘Perfect! What kind of honey would you like?’ Until that moment, for me, like for many others, honey was honey. ‘Normal honey from bees,’ I replied. Then they explained to me that there are many different honeys from different blooms”, recalled Gómez, “and that was the part we finally specialized in.”
A de Abeja works with small producers “who, instead of the export market where they don’t get paid very much, focus on harvesting specific blooms”. The firm buys their honeys at a fair price, packages them and then “tells their individual stories” as they are sold by e-commerce, and in stores, bakeries and cafés.
So far, 18 different honeys have been put on sale in 12 Mexican states.
This enterprise foments and helps beekeepers to take care of their pollinators, not just Apis mellifera, but others too, while preserving the beekeeping tradition in Mexico and creating jobs. Furthermore, it co-founded and actively collaborates with the SAVE The Bees MX organization, which makes it possible for consumers to sponsor bees by making donations to beekeepers, and engages in efforts to raise public awareness with a variety of activities.
In 1987, Hilda Elba Cortés came into possession of a collection of hives in Michoacán, where she opened her first apiary.
“She devoted her efforts to selling primarily to laboratories and pharmaceutical companies that used honey in their formulas. Later on, on a trip to France, she realized that honey could also be used to make cosmetics and other beauty products, so she launched her own line of creams and shampoos,” said Luis Enrique Rodríguez, the Abeja Reyna marketing director.
In 2015, her children and their friends built on Cortés’s know-how and added their own expertise in disciplines like architecture, industrial design and marketing to reinvent the brand.
Their principal aim is to give added value to honey and its derivative products because “Mexico is one of the world’s largest honey producers, but doors are starting to close due to a lack of added value,” said Rodríguez.
An example of this is one of their star products: powdered honey. “When you eat honey, it runs. You can’t dissolve it in drinks, it attracts ants. You can’t take it anywhere you want. It’s a problem. What did we do? Powdered honey. We saw it that it’s much more practical. We’re the first producers in Mexico to develop and commercialize the idea,” noted the head of marketing at Abeja Reyna.
Therefore, a variety of products become possible: creams, hair products, infusions, granola and, of course, select honey, all made with organic honey, Mexican herbs and high-quality natural ingredients.
Luis Enrique Rodríguez remembers that the team originally came together in Guadalajara, Jalisco, in the home garage of one of Hilda Elba’s children, Luis Valentino Ramírez Cortés. Today, they’re in twenty-six Mexican and two U.S. cities, and export their products to Japan, Europe and the Arab Emirates.
“We’ve experienced accelerated growth. We are now in a variety of commercial chain stores like the Walmart Group, HEB, City Market, Soriana, Liverpool, the Alsea Group through Starbucks and Chedraui,” he added. Abeja Reyna also makes online sales through its website.
In the spirit of Hilda Elba Cortés, Abeja Reyna works directly with the beekeeping community, “it’s a win-win because we give honey the added value they have yet to offer. They themselves tell us that if it isn’t sold, in all likelihood they will have to abandon the business, which will have an adverse impact on the environment because they are the ones who take care of the bees,” commented Rodríguez.
This is in addition to other green initiatives like encouraging people to reuse the packaging: if they take it back to an Abeja Reyna store, they get a discount. Furthermore, all the products are hand-made. “We try to use machinery as little as possible,” states the brand.
The reduction in the number of bees threatens human food supply Find out more here.