In the late 1990s, John Rowe was hiking near Whistler, B.C. As always, he had a jar of liquid honey, his preferred natural source of energy, in his backpack. Suddenly, he tripped, fell backward, and the jar of honey smashed. Honey was everywhere, all over his clothes, tent, and supplies.
His first thought: Bears. He threw his backpack one way and he went another.
His second thought: There has to be a better way to carry honey. Rowe is the president and founder of Island Abbey Foods, a P.E.I.-based natural health product and specialty food producer. For six generations, his family has been part of the Island’s rich agricultural tradition. From those roots, Rowe has grown a successful, innovative, and very healthy company.
Rowe’s fateful hiking trip was the impetus for almost 10 years of research and development with the goal of finding a way to make honey portable. The resulting technology removes the water (and stickiness) from honey while leaving everything else — flavour, aroma, health benefits, sweetness — completely intact.
“It’s the world’s first dried honey,” says Abbey Foods marketing manager Lindsay Mulligan. “And the only one.” Other honeytype products use refined sugars or other additives to get a usable solid product.
Mulligan says perfecting that technology opened up a range of possibilities, which the company continues to explore. In 2007, Island Abbey Foods launched the Honibe line of pure honey products. First came the f lagship Honey Drop – non-sticky cubes of honey (only honey) designed for sweetening hot drinks. The next year came the confectionary line, Honey Delights.
But honey does more than taste nice and offer a natural source of energy. It’s antibacterial, anti-microbial, contains anti-oxidants and nutrients, and is healthier than refined sugar. It’s lower on the glycaemic index than simple sugars, so it’s more appropriate for diabetics.
In 2010 came Honibe’s honey lozenges. The short list of ingredients that sets the product apart (honey, menthol, and eucalyptus) is only possible because of the honey-drying technology.
This year has brought a stream of new applications and products: new flavours of lozenges; Honibe suckers, both as confectionary and children’s lozenges; Honibe vitamins (honey and vitamin C or D); and even Honibe liquid and creamed honey.
“I know, it seems strange we offer liquid honey and we’re all about dried honey,” admits Mulligan. “But there is a huge demand for pure honey — it tastes so good, such a difference from the other honey on the shelf.”
All of the honey used in Honibe’s products is purchased from P.E.I. beekeepers.
Honibe has caught the attention of the marketplace. The lozenges and Honey Drops are available across Canada and should be in the United States by early 2014, says Mulligan. The company was offered a lucrative deal by the Dragons of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, and has picked up a number of awards. Honey Drops were tested and selected as one of the Canadian Space Agency’s “Snacks for Space” and travelled to the Space Station with Commander Chris Hadfield.
There are more products in development, especially in the health and sports nutrition sectors, and new brands on the horizon which will use maple syrup and agave syrup, dried in the same way as honey.
“We’re always working on new innovations, making other healthy sustainable products,” says Mulligan. A crucial part of their mandate is keeping the products accessible, and the competitive price point speaks to that.