Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

How a NAIT business student plans to dip into Canada’s honey business

Patrice Simoneau plans to create a buzz around the Simoneau Honey Buzziness

For Patrice Simoneau, the gloves have come off.

Descended from a line of beekeepers that originated seven generations ago in Quebec, the honey harvester has grown comfortable handling hives barehanded. At the same time, he’s rolling up his sleeves to start building his family’s Simoneau Honey Buzziness into what he hopes will become a national player in Canada’s honey business.

That’s one of the reasons that Simoneau is studying at NAIT’s JR Shaw School of Business, pursuing a Finance degree. The beekeeping he understands, having started learning from his dad when he was just nine years old. Turning that into a successful company, however, requires a different kind of hands-on education.

Alberta, for its stature in the honey industry, is a great place to try to make the leap. The province produces a third of the 75 million pounds of honey in Canada annually. But that also means the region – particularly northwest Alberta and the Peace River area, the location of the Simoneau farm – is abuzz with well-established competition.

Here, Simoneau tells us his reasons to “bee,” from the beginnings of his fascination with his future employees to why they might bring the company sweet success.

Reason 1: It’s bigger than honey

honey bee in a canola flower

Some people like to make fun of me like: “Oh, you're a beekeeper – set the bees free!” I'm doing a service. Bees are such a crucial part of our environment. I'm providing a home for them, taking care of them, feeding them, making sure they're alive. I’m putting bees in the crops. Bees account for a large percentage of pollination across the planet. Any little bit helps in the long run, right?

Reason 2: Bees are fascinating creatures

honey bees at work

Getting my face right up close to the bees, I loved it right away. [It was] just one of those childhood wonders. They're just so smart. [A cell of] the honeycomb gets covered up on the larvae, and then a nurse bee comes along when it's time for them to come out and helps clean them up, and then they just start going to work.

Getting my face right up close to the bees, I loved it right away.

There's a whole cycle to it. They get to be nurse bees, they get to go collect stuff, they get to be a guard bee. And then, whenever their time comes to die, they just die. And the next bee is coming out and doing the exact same thing.

Reason 3: The Peace Country is “gorgeous”

simoneau honey buzziness

I grew up in the Peace River area. We started hobby farming in [nearby] St. Isidore in 2008 or 2009. My dad used to be on a farm when he was younger. It’s the dream when you’re out here – you can have a nice little acreage and do whatever you want. That’s what my mom and dad wanted. They were just driving by one day and the place had a For Sale sign on it. So they went in and checked it out.

I love it here. If you time [a visit] right in the fall, you get the colourful leaves or leaves falling after that first frost and the valley is really pretty. And the fields just stretch on forever. Farm life [appeals to me] – wake up early, get your hands dirty, sit on the patio, enjoy the sunset across the field. And [I] enjoy the feeling of holding up the family tradition, keeping it going.

Reason 4: The Simoneau honey advantage

honeycomb

The difference comes down to the quality of our products. When it comes to the honey itself, there are tons of little things to pay attention to, like the moisture of the honey, the time that you pull it [from the hive], the density. And how many times you filter it. I don't know about you, but I don't want to have beeswax on my toast.

I don't know about you, but I don't want beeswax on my toast.

Our main competitive advantage is that we're 100% raw, unpasteurized honey. It goes straight from the hive, through the [filter] barrel, and then we put it in the jar. It doesn't get any more natural.

Reason 5: This is a good year to rebuild

honey for sale in a shop

In prior years, we had some trouble just with disease, and fires in Hawaii disrupted the queen distribution for the world. That's where they grow queens. And with COVID, it's been a little troublesome getting shipments across borders, like for hives and things like that. So we're just taking a relaxed year, renovating the shop to get it up to federal [requirements].

The main part of the renovations is putting up walls to separate the store, storage and workspaces, and verify that the building is up to code for electrical, fire, water and so on. That way we can start selling our honey across the country.

[Currently,] our delicious honey can be found in northern Alberta at the Peace River Farmers’ Market or picked up directly from our farm. I’ve been going back over my [school] notes, going back into the textbooks, and other resources to broaden my knowledge for the specific things that I'm trying to do with the business, which is getting that online presence going, working on the brand and focusing on sales.

In general, the market for honey in Alberta is always competitive, but the need continues to grow.

Reason 6: His parents love the idea of him taking over

patrice simoneauI see myself buying out the farm one day. Maybe not living here year round, but definitely working on the farm.

My parents are super excited and always working with me on the business plan. They want to retire eventually, so we’re going to work towards that … and get the family business to be a Canadian-wide name.

As told to techlifetoday.ca


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