Sweet business venture from honeycombs

A colony of bees around the queen. Bee keeping is a lucrative venture to Martin Mbaya, the co-founder of Nainchu Honey Company.

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

After graduating from university with Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and Business Administration, Martin Mbaya worked in banking, media and fast-moving consumer goods sectors in different roles in marketing, sales and logistics.

The beginning of 2017 found him in between jobs, and being an election year, it was difficult getting a new job. Towards the end of the year, he decided to give self-employment a shot to keep himself busy as he continued looking for a job.

While contemplating what business to go into, a friend suggested beekeeping

“I researched on it and it looked quite interesting because I've always had an interest in food production and its related value chains, so this was definitely something I was going to explore,” he says.

His research led him to the National Beekeeping Institute, (a Ministry of Agriculture department that oversees matters related to beekeeping in Kenya) where he was given all the necessary information he required to kick off the venture.

He bought the first 20 jars of honey and started selling to family and friends before expanding to the wider market through referrals.

This is how his business, Nainchu Honey Company, was formed.

Mr Martin Mbaya, the co-founder of Nainchu Honey Company.

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

A few months later, his brother, name?, a certified accountant and actuary, joined the business and they started running it together.

“We also enrolled for beekeeping training at the institute and were certified as beekeepers to produce our own honey and aggregate from hundreds of farmers as well, to meet the demand,” he adds.

Good profit

Their main source of the honey is from their apiaries in Meru County, which is supplemented by farmers in Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, Baringo and West Pokot counties.

Mr Mbaya says that to make good profit, the process starts with the bees and how well one takes care of them.

“We keep our beehives in areas with a lot of vegetation and water. We also avoid setting up near areas where farmers use pesticides on the crops to protect the bees and to also avoid contaminated honey,” says Mbaya, pointing out that bees can go as far as a six kilometer radius to look for forage and water.

“We try as much as possible to ensure they do not go too far by ensuring there is adequate forage and water nearby. We also do regular inspections on the hives - at least once a month - to ensure a strong colony and mitigate against any intruding insects,” he explains.

He observes that if all these are done properly, one should be ready to harvest in about six - 12 months of setting up.

Before packing, they do initial tests of the honey on site to ensure the honey is of good quality. Once satisfied with the results, the honey is packed and sent to the company’s plant for processing and packing.

“We also do further tests before dispatching a batch to the market. We test either at the National Beekeeping Institute or at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute.”

The same procedure is used while buying from the farmers, however, the testing process is more rigorous.

Honey business

“We have to test their honey before we pay for their consignments. We also train them on modern and sustainable beekeeping methods,” he says, adding that for the honey business in particular, one needs to be innovative because this is an easy entry business so there is a lot of competition. To stay ahead of the competition, they put a lot of effort in ensuring the honey is consistently of good quality, and pay attention to the packaging of their products.

A jar of honey from Nainchu Company.

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

With value addition in mind, the company is venturing into cosmetic products made from beeswax and honey.

“We also sell propolis tincture, an extract of propolis, which is a remedy for common infections such as coughs, flu and sore throats - propolis has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.”

They have also ventured into skincare, and produce hand and body creams made from beeswax and honey.

Other products that come from bees include beeswax, pollen, royal jelly and bee venom.

“All these products have immense medicinal value as they have been used as remedies for diseases since ancient times,” says Mbaya.

The company’s main market is local, but they have some across East Africa.

Environmental conservation

The business practices sustainable beekeeping, and one way of doing this is ensuring that they do not harvest all the honey from the beehives.

“We leave most of it for the bees. We actually take the least compared to what we leave for the bees. Bees are endangered and we need to ensure their survival even as we enjoy what they produce,” he comments.

The duo has an environmental conservation program where they have set up beehives in Mt Kenya forest.

“This is just for the bees, to ensure they have a habitat,” explains the businessman.

Another way to ensure sustainability is by ensuring the packaging material they use is recyclable.

They have had their own challenges, the biggest being adulteration of honey, which fosters skepticism among potential buyers. It is usually an uphill task convincing new customers that the honey is pure and unadulterated.

“This has also led to misconceptions about honey, for instance, convincing a customer that crystallisation is a natural process of pure honey, and not added sugar,” he says.

“Honey also varies in colour, taste and texture. This depends on where the bees forage and also the season of the year. It is a challenge convincing a customer that the inconsistencies are normal and not an indicator of bad honey,” he adds.

Their future goal is to launch in the export market and innovate more products for the hospitality industry.