Friendly bees mean beekeepers have no need for protective clothing. Photo: Courtesy of Nicolas Netien

The world’s first-ever traceable honey is on the market – made from bees bred for their friendliness.

In a pioneering move for the industry, Cyprus beekeeping enterprise Apianthos produces honey that is not only free from pollutants, but is also traceable, meaning buyers can source their product from “jar to flower.”

Furthermore, their human workers get on so well with the bees that they wear only T-shirts and shorts during harvesting.

General manager Nicolas Netien said: “We do everything here, from making our hives, [to] recycling our wax and breeding our queen bees. We don’t use any chemicals or antibiotics and because we use the bloodline of a particular queen, smoke isn’t needed to calm the bees during harvest and we don’t have to wear protective gear because we have very gentle bees.”

Now in its second year, Apianthos is a 10-hectare organic bee park centered on an abandoned village in the Troodos mountain range.

Having planted thousands of plants and trees to create a year-around source of food for the bees, the company uses nomadic hives to “follow the blossom,” eliminating the need to supplement their bees’ diet with sugar, which is not only bad for them, but also for the quality of the honey.

Netien said: “If you feed bees sugar, their immune system will be compromised and the quality of the honey will be poorer, which is why we take a holistic approach to honey production. What we are doing is bio-mimicry – we are trying to understand the biology of the bee to make it work for us and for the bee as well.

“We enjoy a symbiotic relationship with our bees. We take care never to kill a bee, even when we open our hives. Clearly, we don’t want to harm them, but we also don’t want to make them angry, because that’s when they sting us.

“There’s zero cruelty in what we do and we take only excess honey. Typically, domesticated bees will produce two to three times more honey than they need to survive, so leaving bees with enough honey to feed themselves is not only the kind thing to do, but the clever thing.”

Although Apianthos only caters to the local market at present, the company harbors great ambitions for its honey and honey products, which is why it looked for a unique selling point.

Netien said: “This year, we entered our honey into the London Honey Awards, which promotes the world’s highest-quality honey, and we expect the results later this month. We are then hoping to export our products to the UK and the rest of Europe from next year.

“With exports in mind, and to differentiate ourselves, we decided to be food-transparent. So we publish all our analysis, and the consumer can flash their jar of honey and see its journey.

“We have every batch of honey in our system, from the description of the honey to when and where it was harvested. Along with this traceability, we are also building a blockchain system to show the results of lab tests that will reveal the quality of our product, showing zero sugar in our honey along with its freshness and health benefits.

“We will even show the source of the wood we use to make the hives. Every single detail we can think of for traceability, we will give to the consumer to increase our food transparency.

“We are the first beekeepers in the world to do this and we hope many others will follow our lead, because we believe that traceability and transparency is the future of food safety and food production in the world.”

Apianthos fully expects its pioneering efforts at food transparency will soon become the norm. Photo: Courtesy of Nicolas Netien.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there has been a growing shift toward greater food transparency as consumers become increasingly mindful of health and sustainability issues within the food chain.

According to research by Dutch company Innova Market Insights, transparency is one of the top trends for the food and drink industry this year, with six out of 10 global consumers interested in learning more about where their food comes from.

“Transparency dominates consumer demand in 2021,” said Lu Ann Williams, director of insights and innovation at Innova. “As part of the broader sustainability trend, we currently see how brands are upping their transparency game to meet evolving consumer demands.”

As well as producing honey, Apianthos plans to branch into apitherapy in the near future, offering therapeutic and beauty treatments using honey-bee products, which fits in with a national drive by the government agency Invest Cyprus to promote a more sustainable tourism, expanding the island’s traditional “sun and sand” image to encourage visitors to visit its protected natural environments and wildlife projects.

“We have a number of plans we are working on, but for now traceability is our first priority because food transparency is the future,” Netien said. 

Andrea Busfield

Andrea Busfield has been in journalism for more than 25 years, working as a reporter, features editor and copy editor for UK national newspapers, the chief civilian print editor of Sada-e Azadi in Kabul, and deputy editor of Gulf Times in Qatar. A published author, she now works as a freelance journalist based in Cyprus.