The company announced today the donation will support Cornell’s multidisciplinary Pollinator Network in which researchers strive to address real-world bee problems across a range of topics that ultimately impact production.
“Everything for us is about ‘honey gives hope’ and ‘grow to give,’ which is our mission and what we are in the business to do. And so, when we talk about giving, obviously we talk about the things where we give to women’s shelters … but it really starts with the bees, because if we don’t give to the bees and beekeepers first, we don’t have any possible way at all to have a growing company … and help meet growing needs across the world,” Ryan McCoy, chief sales and marketing officer for Nature Nate’s told FoodNavigator-USA.
He explained that Nature Nate’s donated to Cornell in part because the researchers at the university are leaders in bee conservation and support a diverse program.
“They are not just focused on one particular thing, like reproduction of bees. They are also focused on bee genetics, pesticides and the impact of pesticides, and how do we help beekeepers be more productive and effective,” McCoy said.
Nature Nate’s also wanted to partner with Cornell because the university “seems to have a mind for partnership, meaning they are not just going to take our money and go do whatever they want. They are going to be looking for ways for us to help them, and them to help us, and so we are super excited about this initiative,” he added.
Specifically, McCoy said, Nature Nate’s is hopeful Cornell can help it improve its honey testing program, which it provides for all its beekeepers at no cost to them.
“When you become a producer or supplier for Nature Nate’s one of the things we do is we say we are going to test your honey and we are going to provide you with the results from the testing so that beekeepers can understand if they have practices that they need to investigate or change” to improve the quality of their honey, McCoy said.
He added that Nature Nate’s has “the highest standards for testing in the United States and that we set the expectation that when people buy Nature Nate’s honey, they buy quality.”
As such, he said, the company does turn away honey that does not meet its standards, “and there are no ifs, ands or buts.”
The growing supply and demand gap for honey
The investment into research focused on bee conservation and improved honey product comes at a time when the US honey supply is falling and demand is increasing.
According to a report from the US Department of Agriculture released last month, honey production in the US fell 9% from 2016 to 2017 for operations with five or more colonies. The number of colonies producing honey in 2017 also was down for 4% from the prior year, as was yield per colony, which dropped 5% in the period.
“If you look at the broad trend in production since 1990, production of honey from commercial beekeepers in the US is down 60%, and … that is a scary trend,” McCoy said.
At the same time that supply is “under strain,” demand and usage of honey in the US is up, he added. “Consumers are becoming more interested in honey and honey products,” especially as a natural sweetener alternative to cane sugar, he said.
The widening supply and demand gap “has really opened the door for education, and that is what we are trying to do with Cornell,” McCoy added.
Supporting research & education beyond Cornell
Cornell is not the only university with which Nature Nate’s partners.
“We have been working with Texas A&M for years because they do a lot of pollen analysis and testing. The University of Georgia is doing interesting studies on queen bees and bee reproduction and the University of Texas at Dallas is only half an hour from us, so they come here quite a bit to our farm and we try to work with them on their educational program,” McCoy said.
He added that Nature Nate’s is “extremely passionate” about advancing education about bee health and beekeeping, even the outcome also helps competitors. That said, the company encourages others in the space to also support research and education related to bees.
He explained: “We need to collectively support the industry because the numbers speak for themselves in terms of the raw production of honey and … bee health overall.”