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Now James and his sister, Laura, own Foothills Honey, with 4500 honey-bee hives to manage, including a custom-built display hive in the Fools of Desire Cafe in Rangiora.
They employ 15 permanent and seven casual staff throughout the season, with support for the business from family, neighbours, friends and the Canterbury foothills community.
“We work with farmers across Te Waipounamu Coast and some as close as next door,” Laura says.
For James, it was “love at first sight, the curiosity of the inner workings of the social structure within a beehive”, which got him hooked on working with honey bees, beginning with 10 hives as a teenager.
Laura, as his younger sister, wanted to be involved in everything James was doing, so when James offered Laura a job “for the summer to get his office systems in order” she was quick to accept.
“I’m still here annoying him five years later,” she says.
The business began in 2009, trading as Natural New Zealand Honey Ltd and exporting bulk honey all over the world to different honey traders under various brands.
“Most honey brands are marketing companies, buying honey off beekeepers and selling under their own label,” Laura says.
“We have full traceability. James, alongside his crew of beekeepers, harvested that honey, which is an awesome story and one we want to share.”
The siblings both own lifestyle properties on Foothills Road in Okuku and decided to buy the Foothills Honey business because the Foothills story gelled with them and their connection to Foothills Road.
“We knew we could put our personalities into the business and have a bit of fun.”
Foothills Honey joined the Kiwi honey home market in 2019. So far, business has been steady.
“We didn’t expect to break any records,” Laura says.
“New Zealand is a small country with five million people.
“To have a decent domestic market as a primary industry we are missing about 20 million more. That is just the reality.
“However, we are extremely proud to have a trusted presence in our local domestic market. Why shouldn’t Kiwis have access to the creme de la creme of export products instead of second, third or fourth-grade products?”