Listening to what customers want has been a profitable strategy for Sam and Sandra Thiessen of Verry Berry Honey.
The Thiessens and their four children have been in the honey business here for six years and have run Verry Berry for five. They currently have about 300 hives in production and sell regular and blended honeys, honey glazes and honey-based vinaigrettes.
It all started when the bottom fell out of the honey market and the family was forced to get creative, says Sandra. “We needed a means to keep going and we came up with the idea to add fruit to honey because we needed to come up with something different,” she said.
The Thiessens developed their recipes and experimented until they found the right blends. They make over 16 flavours of honey including lemon, cinnamon, raspberry, mint, lavender, cranberry and saskatoon berry. Sandra says most of the flavours were suggested by customers. The newest are saskatoon berry and cherry, and were created using berries grown at Pearson’s Berry Farm. “We try to co-produce as much as possible with other Alberta producers,” Sandra says.
Allium Foodworks worked closely with the Thiessens to create the recipes for the vinaigrettes and glazes. The seven glazes contain 70 per cent honey and are used for barbecuing and marinating meat, while the six vinaigrettes, which contain about 10 to 20 per cent honey, are used on salads.
Appealing to both sexes
The honeys sell well in the winter when people consume more tea, so the Thiessens were looking to create products that could be used in the summer. The barbecue glazes fill that gap, but seemed to be more in demand by men. As a result, the Thiessens decided to create the vinaigrettes, which were of more interest to women. “We’ve had a lot of requests for an all-natural honey vinaigrette, so we just listened to what people want,” says Sandra.
Consumer requests and recommendations come from inquiries at farmers’ markets, and questions from friends or customers who visit the farm store.
“You basically have to be in tune with what the consumer wants and try to fill that,” says Sandra. Maintaining the quality once you attract the customers is also crucial.
Verry Berry products are all natural, and contain no additives or preservatives. The Thiessens blend new batches of honey every day and sell wholesale and to retail outlets throughout British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan as well as at farmers’ markets in the Edmonton area. The strength of their business meant they were able to open a farm store and commercial kitchen on their farm in 2008.
Three of the four children have side projects and ways of contributing to the family business. Sixteen-year-old Jennifer makes beeswax candles, while her 14-year-old sister sells beeswax lip balms. Eleven-year-old Matt contributes homemade body butter moisturizers. All of the kids are good at keeping track of their inventory and making sure they get the money from their sales, said Sandra.
In addition to their honey business, the Thiessens also offer tours so people can learn more about the bee industry. They keep an observation hive and offer educational sessions about bees and the bee industry to schools in the Tofield and Edmonton areas.
Sales continue to grow and have doubled every year for the past four years. The Thiessens recently made their first sale to China and are also working with a buyer in the United States.
“ You basically have to be in tune with what the consumer wants and try to fill that.”
VERRY BERRY BERRY FARM