Buzzing business embraces change through the decades

Buzzing business embraces change through the decades


Life & Style
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Blue Hills Honey started as a small family business at Mawbanna in the 1950s, since then many things have changed and grown over time.

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Blue Hills Honey started as a small family business at Mawbanna in the 1950s, since then many things have changed and grown over time.

However, the one thing that has stayed the same is the family's love for good quality honey.

Now in the hands of Nicola and Robbie Charles, the business includes nearly 2000 hives and employs a number of local families.

Despite new and exciting adventures for the company like a vital reality room, cafe and new products, they along with many of the state's beekeepers haven't had much luck this season.

"It's been one of the worst season's I've ever seen. It was just about a total failure of the leatherwood. Pretty much hopeless," Mr Charles said.

"I think it got too hot and dry. The flowers sort of went into withdrawal. What flowered only actually half flowered."

He said he doesn't think it's a sign of climate change, but more a cycle of the weather patterns.

"I think it's just a seasonal thing. I sort of don't believe in climate change. I think it's just a rotation of climates. I can remember my father saying that one time they got absolutely no leatherwood one year."

On an optimistic note, Mrs Charles added, "the good thing about this year is that we did get a good manuka harvest. That was one positive from this."

The couple said they luckily weren't severely impacted by the recent bush fires on the West Coast.

"We did lose 24 hives on one site," Mrs Charles said.

"Leatherwood doesn't regenerate, once it's gone it's gone forever and even if trees do regenerate it's 60 to 70 years before they become productive, or into a regular production cycle," Mr Charles said.

I think it's just a seasonal thing. I sort of don't believe in climate change. I think it's just a rotation of climates. - Bobbie Charles

With a family history so strongly tied to the industry and area, the couple has faced a lot of changes, big and small.

"I've been beekeeping now full-time for 40 years, and the biggest changes are in the mechanical side of it, less labour and we have forklifts now, whereas everything us to be done by hand when I was a boy," he said.

"The quality insurance side of everything, the requirements for food production have increased."

Mr Charles said the bureaucracy of every was leading him to become a "grumpy old bastard".

"I'm just over the bureaucracy and the paperwork. It's taking the enjoyment out of what we do."

On an average season, they produce 100 tonnes of the golden goodness. The record for the highest annual yield is at 197 tonnes and the lowest at 42 tonnes.

Mrs Charles explained that on average, 70 per cent is exported, with the biggest market being Hong Kong.

"There's a cultural appreciation for honey there and its nutraceutical benefits. It's a functional food in short," she said.

"Leatherwood is one of the highest antioxidant honeys in the world.

"The South-East Asian cultures, in particular, have grown up traditionally with honey as a medicine."

Key to the honey's health benefits is the minimalist processing, and the temperature of the honey always staying below 45°C. This helps preserve even the most delicate flavours and aromas and leave in all the good stuff.

She said having such a large market percentage overseas made the clean green label of being Tasmanian crucial to their marketing.

"The Tasmanian branding is our whole platform essentially."

The company was the first Australian honey producer to implement the honey industry's B-QUAL quality assurance program.

The quality-controlled factory and processes pass several rigorous audits every year, ensuring compliance all standards.

They said to "watch this space" for other products being developed.

In the pipeline, they have some botanic ranges, including mixes of ginseng, pepperberry as well as hemp. They are also creating mead.

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