Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming editor, in conversation with Andrew Shinnick of Blackwater Honey. Read part one of this interview.
“Beekeeping is expensive to get into for sure. There are lots of costs, and some are not recouped for years. However, that said, it can be profitable once you get to a certain stage or number of hives.
There are not many commercial beekeepers in Ireland. Most are hobbyists, to be honest, and do it for the love of the art rather than for the money.
We sell honey directly to the public through our website and in a local café/bistro/food market in Fermoy.
Thanks to the Local Enterprise Office, we were granted an online trading voucher that helped set up an e-Commerce shop and website and which helps us sell directly to our consumers.
In total, we have four honeys: heather honey, blossom honey, ivy honey (currently not on sale) and a soft set honey.
We render down the old beeswax and clean it in wintertime. We use it to make beeswax candles.
The candles we sell either online or at the Christmas markets. We sometimes make other associated wax products, the likes of leather or furniture polishes or indeed lip balms etc.
Our multi-award winning honey costs are as follows:
- Blossom Honey (227g): €8.50 a jar;
- Heather Honey (227g): €15 a jar;
- Soft Set Honey (227g): €10 a jar.
Anyone can order via the website or pick up a jar locally in Fermoy. Our honey is 100 % Irish, non-blended and 100% natural, but most importantly, we are Ireland’s ‘most awarded’ honey.
Honey has many health benefits, like helping to fight colds, curing sore throats, boosting immunity and reducing symptoms of hay fever.
Heather honey is comparable to Manuka honey and, in fact, has a higher Total Phenolic Content (TPC) than Manuka.
Honey can also be used for wound care and is often used in medicine to treat burns.
Our honeys have won the following awards;
- Gold medal, Blas na hEireann 2021 – Soft Set honey
- Gold medal, Irish Quality Food & Drink Awards 2021 – Heather Honey
- Silver medal, Irish Quality Food & Drink Awards 2021 – Blossom Honey
- Finalist, Blas na hEireann 2021 – Blossom Honey
- Overall Food category winner, Irish Made Awards, Irish Country Magazine 2021
- 1 Star, Guild of Fine Food, Great Taste Award United Kingdom 2021 – Blossom honey
- Highly Commended for the covered jar competition (Blind Taste) in the Dublin Honey Show 2021 – Blossom honey.
The biggest challenge that we have had to overcome is how we are to upscale our business.
With beekeeping, it takes a long time and some serious financial investment and indeed time to scale up the business if you want to go at it commercially or full time. We are not there yet, but getting there gradually.
It is more of a long term plan to get to where both John and I would like to see Blackwater Honey get to. It is a bit like eating an elephant, one bite at a time, and you will eventually get there.
We are extremely satisfied with our progress thus far, from setting up and creating an artisan food business, to creating a unique brand, to marketing our honey online, to winning every major national and international prize in 2021.
We are still a small, mainly a hobbyist enterprise and yes, ideally, I would like for it to be bigger and to go full-time at it. However, I have a few more things on my list to do and achieve before I see that happening.
In the short term, we would also like to focus on partnering with more companies and indeed organisations through our Adopt a Hive scheme.
Part of our business is to also offer an ‘adopt a hive’ scheme for both individuals and businesses.
Companies like FISERV, Stryker and VMWARE have joined us along with many local Cork businesses.
By partnering with us, your company will be helping to support our conservation work, allowing us to focus on helping to expand the number of native Irish honeybee colonies in Ireland.
This will, in turn, contribute to your corporate social responsibility (CSR) and generate a great buzz amongst your company and demonstrate to your customers your continued support for the environment and towards the conservation of the endangered native Irish honeybee.
In the medium to long-term future, we would like to focus on upscaling the business to perhaps one day a fully commercial enterprise.
We have had some very interesting offers now that we have won both Blas na hEireann, and the Irish Made Awards. The enquiries for our honey are constantly coming in.
The future of beekeeping looks very good from our viewpoint. More and more people are getting into beekeeping.
Many people want local honey and are acutely aware of where their food is sourced and how it is produced etc.
There are, however, many challenges which I discussed earlier, but we can overcome them if we all work together.
When I think back to when I was younger and how I helped my uncle collect wild swarms, to where we are now and with being crowned champion at Blas na hEireann, it has been quite a remarkable journey.
I would not have thought in a million years that it could happen to us back then. For sure, it has not been easy. There has been a lot of hard work and perseverance, but it has paid off for us in the end.
So my advice to anyone starting out would be, do not be discouraged if you get knocked down. Simply get up and keep on trying. Eventually, you will get there in the end and achieve your goals.”