It was September in the Peace Country. The air still had a sweet trace of summer and the year’s honey run in Guy, Alberta, was coming to a close. West of High Prairie and hundreds of kilometres from Alberta’s manufacturing heartland to the south, the pastoral community held a high-tech surprise: Honey Bunny, a state-of-the-art organic honey production, processing and packaging facility.
“It’s a big, professional facility,” said Janet Plante, a productivity consultant working in the Peace Region. “It can process thousands of pounds of honey.” She was in Guy for a meeting in Honey Bunny’s spectacular boardroom. With its granite-topped table and 16 chairs, the boardroom overlooked the workings of the packaging and processing facility. Plante watched as a small handful of staff oversaw the highly-automated process, from extraction of the raw product from honey combs, to the packaging of the processed food items. Her guide, Jessica Simard, explained the process.
“Windows on the west side of the room look into the warehouse and extraction room,” Simard told them. From July to September, Honey Bunny staff had collected frames from the hives and put them into the extractor, where a centrifuge spun the honey out. Windows on the north side of the boardroom looked into the packing plant. “There’s a kettle where we cook the honey,” Simard said, “and it goes from there into a processing tank equipped with big paddle. It whips the honey, stirs it, heats and cools it. From there, honey is pumped into the pouching line.”
Honey Bunny’s innovative packaging is garnering notice. Company president Gilbert Wolfe, who owns Honey Bunny with his wife, company vice president Sharon, explained that they have opted for distinctive lightweight pouches, instead of glass jars. “We wanted to differentiate our product,” he said, “and we had to do it here.” Of course “here” is hundreds of kilometres from suppliers. One function of that eye-catching recyclable packaging is that the Wolfes can bring in just one truckload of empty pouches for every 25 truckloads of glass jars.
Wolfe has kept bees since he was a teenager in the 1980s and, in 1992, he bought Savard Bulk Honey. Bees in the Peace feed mainly on clover and the honey they produce is clear, rather than yellow. But once the bulk is shipped, it frequently gets mixed with other, amber honey. The Wolfes knew that the Peace Country product was special and weren’t content to continue purely as bulk honey producers. They started investigating equipment and, in 2006, launched their first Honey Bunny products.
The state-of-art processing and pouch-filling machinery enables Honey Bunny to produce several value-added products. Wolfe explained that it’s a matter of building value through vertical integration. “We raise bees, we still supply bulk honey, and we manufacture a line of food products including honey barbecue sauces, ketchup and other condiments,” he said, “as well as products like lip balm and protein-rich bee pollen. “We do it all – right here.”
The Peace Country is called Canada’s honey capital, producing more than 4.5 million kilograms of of honey annually. Gilbert Wolfe started keeping bees at age 16 when his father bought him 50 bee hives. Today, Wolfe and his wife Sharon own 5,000 hives. The facility is capable of processing and packaging more than 2,200 kilograms of honey per day in its 465-square-metre space and their products have won several industry awards. Honey Bunny and its parent company, Wolfe Honey, together produce the largest share of Canada’s organic honey – as much as 408,000 kilograms annually.
Catch the buzz at www.honeybunny.ca