Bee Natural’s mission is to always bring the best of nature into a high quality and affordable range. That has served the brand well, growing over nearly thirty years to be sold in health food stores and specialist honey outlets as far afield as New York and Hong Kong. The products are hand made in small batches, using honey, beeswax and propolis in combination with natural oils, which has proven to be a successful formula that has stood the test of time.
Bee Natural was the very first brand to join Sustainable Marketplace so needless to say they have a special place in our hearts. We caught up with Jason, the owner of Bee Natural in a lovely seaside café in Lennox Head to chat a bit more about the evolution of Bee Natural, and why sustainability has become a key aspect of the business. We loved catching up with Jason and learning more about the process that goes into making Bee Natural’s wonderful products, and what has been their biggest success so far.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how your Bee Natural journey came about.
Bee Natural has been around for many years. The company started in 1992 in Byron Bay. I have a marketing background and worked with natural oils from the Ballina and Byron Bay area for many years. In the early 2000’s I did some work for Bee Natural – marketing their products in Europe and the United States, and about a decade later, when the original owners wanted to retire, they asked if my wife Christine and I were interested in taking on the business. We took over Bee Natural in 2014 and have been making the products ever since. We made some small changes to the look of the packaging and some small product improvements, but the creams and balms are essentially the same as they’ve always been.
Your products are hand made at home. I’m really impressed with your small factory, which is a beautiful workspace. Can you tell us some more about the process of handmaking skincare products?
Our small factory is very much like a commercial kitchen and, yes, we make all products by hand, with raw ingredients - beeswax, honey and oils. It’s an enjoyable process but it’s also hard, physical work. Christine, AKA ‘the alchemist’, does the majority of our production and I help out whenever the process requires two people.
Is it a fiddly process, pouring product into packaging and not spilling most of it?
It took us a while to work out the most efficient way to get our product into its packaging. Some of it is very labour intensive. Especially the lip balm sticks, which are tricky to fill! How we do it? I might keep that a trade secret for now…
I’m using your Original Night Cream, after purchasing it at the Byron Bay markets. It’s a very rich cream and I like how it feels on my face, especially now we’re going into Winter. What makes your creams so protective and nourishing? Do you use them yourself?
The beeswax and oils are what make the creams so rich. We are known for our dry skin creams. That’s how Bee Natural started and it’s still the essence of our brand. Our most popular product is the Original Face Cream, with the Original Dry Skin Cream a close second. All our ‘original’ creams are unscented and they’ve always been popular with people who have dry skin conditions such as dermatitis and excema. Our Original Dry Skin Cream has a high percentage beeswax and when applied it creates a protective barrier on the skin. It may not cure dermatitis and excema, but definitely helps manage it.
I use the original face cream myself. We live by the ocean and I’m a surfer, so my skin is exposed to sun, salt water and wind all year round. Plus, having grown up in Australia my skin has a lot of sun damage. Our Original Face Cream is a really good fit and I use it every day.
Originally we marketed our thicker creams to more mature age groups and our customers in cooler climates, but now we’re finding that they’re being used throughout the year, by people of all ages. They’re also popular with people who are outdoors a lot. Tradies and the like. It’s the same with our lip balms which have become very popular in the last few years.
What about Bee Natural’s raw honey. Do you source it locally?
We do. Our honey is made by bees in littoral (coastal) rainforest areas around Byron Bay. There are still remnant pockets of littoral rainforest in this region and the bees seek out among others melaleuca (tea tree) and leptospermum (manuka) flowers.
Sometimes customers ask why we don’t have a specific type of honey, such as yellowbox. But our honey is a truly natural product which changes with the seasons. Its flavour and consistency depend on what is available to the bees: what trees and scrubs are flowering.
Since you took over Bee Natural in 2014 sustainability has become a very important aspect of good business governance. Have you made any changes to the way you produce, package and ship your products?
We’ve made quite a few changes and are always looking for new ways to improve our products.
The easiest to address was our shipping, which is now completely plastic free. We use only compostable materials and paper labels. Australia Post has come a long way with their post packs and satchels as well. Incidentally, the uptake of compostable mail satchels has increased so much in this region that they were completely sold out recently! A little bit annoying, but very good news at the same time.
It’s not been quite as straightforward with our product packaging. We’ve looked at waxed cardboard for instance, which is unfortunately not air tight enough, so especially our creams didn’t last as well. Because our products don’t contain any preservatives they require packaging that’s both air tight and water tight.
For the time being where there’s no suitable alternative, we’re going to stick with a mix of plastic and tins (which offer some environmental benefits) and that’s working well for our products. We did make some improvements though, as we now source our pots, pump bottles and lip balm sticks exclusively from Australian manufacturers. They’re made from recycled plastic and are in turn recyclable. So while we’ll continue to look for more sustainable solutions we’re definitely heading in the right direction. And let’s not forget that we use mostly raw ingredients for our products, avoiding a lot of packaging!
What do you think has been Bee Natural’s biggest achievement so far?
We’re really proud of the success we’ve had with our lip balms. When we first took over, the lip balms were only a small part of our product range but that has completely changed and now we have quite a variety of flavours and our lip balms are among our best selling products.
Christine has also begun experimenting with some of our other balms. I think we’ll be able to add some new balms to our product range in the near future. At this stage I can’t reveal too much but the road ahead looks quite exciting.
That sounds like the answer to my last question: what does the future hold for Bee Natural?
Definitely more balms. More beeswax and oils, less water.