Backstory

Backstory: Vintage Bee spins creamy honey into a national brand

vbridges@newsobserver.comJune 3, 2013 

Vintage Bee co-owner Van Trapp watches as raw honey runs through a series of filters in the buchet. Van and his wife Laura run Vintage Bee, a wholesale honey company that has gone from selling 600 pounds of honey a month to 21,000 pounds in recent years.

VIRGINIA BRIDGES — vbridges@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Advice from Van Tapp and Troy Marshall

    •  Know to the penny what it costs to produce a product.

    •  Know your seasons and prepare for the low times.

    •  Constantly look at costs and how you can cut them.

    •  Don’t throw your hands up when everything hits the fan.

— On paper, Vintage Bee, a wholesale honey company, is less than a year old.

So when some of the company’s five national retailers started doubling and tripling their orders earlier this year, seeking a traditional bridge bank loan wasn’t a viable option, representatives of the company said.

“The amount of hoops to jump through and the time it takes to get (a loan) when you have an order sitting on your desk that you have to get out, it is just not worth it to us,” said Troy Marshall, who manages sales and production at the company owned by his sister and brother-in-law, Laura and Van Tapp.

Instead, Vintage Bee turned in February to friends, family and others to help them by financing individual purchase orders.

Vintage Bee promised to repay the loan after they received payment for the order, plus $4 per week, for every $1,000.

Currently, the company has eight financers that it turns to, Marshall said.

“And we have some waiting who just say, ‘Give us a call, and we will do it,’ ” Marshall said.

Laura Tapp started Vintage Bee after her father-in-law, Jack Tapp, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2008, and needed help with Busy Bee Apiaries, which has been producing and selling honey and related supplies on New Hope Road in Chapel Hill since 1998.

Laura Tapp eventually decided to split the company. Busy Bee would continue to produce honey and Vintage Bee would focus on wholesale.

Laura Tapp started researching how to turn Vintage Bee into a national brand, and worked with the N.C. Department of Agriculture to learn how to build that presence. Last year, the new, officially incorporated company moved to the Piedmont Food & Agriculture Processing Center, a culinary incubator, invested in equipment and created a marketing plan. The company hired Marshall, a Sanford pastor who had recently been laid off, and started attending gourmet food shows and advertising in related magazines, Marshall said.

Since 2010, the company has gone from selling from 600 units of honey a month as Busy Bee to selling 21,000 units a month to national retailers, including HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls, and retailers across the southeast and five other countries. The honey comes from Busy Bee and about five other honey operations.

Vintage Bee’s products include a variety of honey – clover, tupelo, wild flower and blueberry – that is jarred by Marshall, the Tapps or a part-time employee, after the pollen, wax, and other items are filtered out.

“Every variety has a little bit different taste and finish,” Marshall said.

Vintage Bee also sells creamed honey, which is raw honey that is spun for hours to create a spreadable, peanut-butter-like consistency, in 12 flavors that include strawberry, chocolate and lemon.

Vintage Bee plans to debut and sell its Creamed Honey with Hibiscus on QVC June 14 as part of a three-pack package, which also includes Spiced Apple Creamed Honey and the brand’s top-selling item, Cinnamon Creamed Honey.

The Creamed Honey with Hibiscus is up for a Specialty Food Association “sofi” award – which stands for “specialty outstanding food innovation” – in the jam, preserve, honey or nut butter category.

The winner will be announced July 1 at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.

“If we win gold, it will definitely take us to the next level,” Van Tapp said.

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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