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15 December, 2013 - 21:56 By News Desk

Co-op support creates a buzz for beekeeping business

Great Tilkey Honey

A Suffolk bee farmer is enjoying huge business success and has been provided with a long-term route to market for his honey, thanks to the support and involvement of the East of England Co-op.

The regional supermarket chain identified Great Tilkey Honey as a perfect product to complement its Sourced Locally range, and provided marketing advice and support to ensure the business could supply product in sustainable quantities to 43 if its stores.

Owned by Mike Coe, Great Tilkey Honey was started as a hobby five years ago, but Mike loved it so much that he decided to run it as a going concern.

“Bees are in trouble on a global scale. They are essential to life because they pollinate food crops and if they die out there will be serious food shortages. As part of my business, I often take my bees to farmland around the region to help with pollination, because there are so few bees in the wild to do this essential job.

“Two years ago I was in my local Co-op and I asked one of the staff if they would be interested in stocking my honey. They gave me Kevin Warden’s number as he was the Locally Sourced Manager. Kevin and Jason Whittleton, the Local Sourcing and Fresh Food Specialist, assessed the product and agreed that it would be perfect for their Sourced Locally range.

“They helped me with marketing, branding, trading standards and streamlining my business, barcoding and labelling. I now supply 43 stores in the region with 800 jars per month in peak season. To maintain this supply, my operation has grown from 60 to100 hives and some seven million bees in peak summer season.

“I could not have established this route to market without the Co-op. I may have struggled for years to increase my supplies to local farm shops, but I never could have achieved this under my own steam.”

Kevin Warden, East of England Co-op’s Sourced Locally Manager, commented: “Great Tilkey Honey is a perfect example of a superb quality product, made locally with love and care, and it is one that the customers want. People are very keen to buy local products and the honey is selling very well. The quality of the honey is second to none; many supermarkets buy their honey from, say, China, where bees are fed on sugared water and the taste isn’t nearly as good.”

The East of England Co-operative Society is the largest independent retailer in East Anglia and has over 200 trading outlets which are located in more than 70 towns and villages including the three regional centres of Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester.

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