Now that Miller is in high school, his vision has changed. He still cares about bees—he keeps several hives of his own—but now he has plans for himself. With his parents help he intends to make his company, which offers a number of spicy honey preparations, his launching pad after college.
“I enjoy the challenge. I take pride in the fact that I’ve already started something so that I never have to call anyone ‘boss’ in my life,” Miller told NutraIngredients-USA.
Threat to bees
Miller got his first hive when he was 12 and became absorbed in the problems afflicting honey bees, problems which seemed all but insuperable at the time. In 2006 beekeepers and industrial bee contractors started to notice an phenomenon in which bees didn’t return to their hives and the life of the colony quickly unwound. Dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, the problem rapidly accelerated, leading to dire warnings about the future of European honey bees and their role as the pollinators of a majority of the food on modern tables. The cause of CCD is not yet clear, with viruses, parasites like mites that infest the bees and the widespread use of nicotinoid pesticides on crops all mentioned either alone or in concert as possible causes. With the cause unknown the cure is unclear, too, but management practices to lessen the impact of the disorder are starting to gain ground and year-to-year hive losses have stabilized somewhere around the 30% range. Experts are still gravely concerned about the situation, but the atmosphere of panic seems to have dissipated.
Miller’s early work with the company included a strong education piece about the plight of the bees. But as the early panic in the bee community lifted, his attention wandered, too. Trying to build a company and still have a childhood took up most of his time, Miller said.
“My parents said I had to grown up since I was 12. I think I’ve definitely missed some things about being a kid. I know research on bees has been helping a lot and awareness has been growing. At the beginning I was fascinated with bees, but with the demands of the business it’s hard to keep tabs on all of that,” Miller said.
Miller always liked cooking and after harvesting his first crop from his own hives at his home in Deming, WA he started to experiment with what could be done with the sudden bounty of sweet honey. Miller came up with the genesis of the company’s products, prepared honeys that juxtapose sweet with savory using spices such as habanero, chipotle, garlic, ginger and black pepper with a raw honey base. The products feature whimsical names like Grumpy Grandpa and Naughty Nana. Mixing sweet and hot is still a relatively new concept on the American culinary front, so Miller has found that, just as with the bees, a certain amount of education is necessary.
“When poeple hear spicy honey, it confuses them. Once people try it, they really like it,” Miller said.
The company started out in the natural channel, and formally launched at the Natural Products Expo West trade show a few years ago. At that first show, a buyer from Wegman’s, a natural food store chain in the Northeast, noticed the product and took it up. The company now has distribution through UNFI, too. But Miller said the time has come to broaden the horizons, though like many startups Miller’s company struggles with finding the capital to do that.
“We recently found that we really can’t afford to rely just on the natural channel. We do great at food shows when we can demo the product for people. We just hope that we get into enough stores that people see it enough and try it.
“It’s hard to come up with capital. An investor would be amazing. People at school say it’s so cool I run my own company and I must have all this money. But 99% goes right back into buying new equipment or buying more honey. We don’t want this to just be a specialty food. We want to be a well known brand. My goal is for it to be like Tabasco,” Miller said.