This New York City Beekeeper Wants to Make Honey a "Super Super Food"
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For seven years, Igor Yakovlev made a living as an urban beekeeper selling his honey at local farmer’s markets and independent stores in New York and New Jersey. “I got into the business because I was always interested in honeybees and helping people and the environment,” he says, noting that, “seventy-percent of our ecosystem is pollinated by honeybees” and touting the health benefits of honey.
In recent years, Yakovlev, like many, began hearing about the medicinal properties of CBD. “I started doing research,” he says, adding that he was inspired to find a way to up the healing properties of his products by infusing them with cannabidiol oil. “I thought, what if I could make my honey a super, super food?” he says.
Here’s how he got the business out of the hive and into the market.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
Yakovlev knew he wanted to branch out, but he also knew that he was not a businessperson. So, he sought out childhood friends Sam and Boris Savransky, who both had lucrative backgrounds in e-commerce. The brothers came on board bringing the funds needed to get the company off the ground. In 2018, Hempme was born.
Each partner in the company has a different role. “I do the production, Sam does the marketing, and Boris does all the logistics,” Yakovlev explains.
Find the best source
Yakovlev began searching for CBD partners and came across several industry hemp growers in Colorado, Oregon, and New York. “I ordered samples of different oils to play around with, to see what tasted better, what looked better, what was the best type of oil for the honey,” he recalls.
The founders started with a CBD isolate, generally accepted as the easiest to blend with a food product, but they quickly realized the formulation wouldn’t offer the benefits they were going for. “We wanted people to experience the full entourage effect so we started doing a full CBD full spectrum, a whole plant,” Yakovlev explains.
Get the process down
Next, Yakovlev had to master the process of getting the honey just right and making their product stand out from competitors. “Hempme is special because we use a special process where we cream the honey, which many other companies do not do,” Yakovlev says. This is a combination of liquid and crystalized honey placed into a machine and spun for two days before the extract is added. This process, according to Boris, also helps to ensure that consumers are getting an even distribution of CBD with each use.
In addition to its cinnamon-flavored Creamed Honey, Hempme also offers a CBD honeycomb “straight from the hive,” as well as pain-relieving Hemp Balm.
“We use our own harvested honey for those. They are our staple,” Yakovlev says, the latter of which has been popular among athletes and UFC fighters. Floyd Mayweather’s personal bodyguards, for instance, have written in to rave about reduced joint pain and deeper sleep as a result of the products. HempMe’s catalog also includes full spectrum lip balm, and water-soluble full spectrum oil tinctures.
Get yourself to market
Once the inventory was ready and third-party lab approved, the team dove headfirst into the task of preparing for retail in the spring of 2018. But it took a full nine months before they were able to secure an online merchant account and the founders were sitting on product with no way to legally sell it.
This delayed Hempme’s initial batch of sales until December 2018. “That was our first gut check,” Yakovlev adds. This threw their sales off course but the founders say if everything continues to go as planned; they should be fully profitable in 2020.
The second hurdle came in the form of realizing that mainstream platforms, like Facebook and Google, wouldn’t allow them to advertise in the traditional sense so they developed work-around strategies. For example, an ad for CBD honey would simply invite Facebook users to check out a new honey product that people are raving about. The ad wouldn’t mention CBD at all. The viewer would learn the secret ingredient is CBD later in their customer journey.
Word of mouth is also important. “We reach out to people online organically who are basically sharing that they are dealing with specific ailments and we get in touch, telling them about our product, and explaining how it can help,” Yakovlev says.
Gather research to back your case
Another challenge is the lack of research on the science behind CBD. For the time being, the team is referencing studies that highlight the antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties of honey and plugging the benefits of CBD though antidotal evidence and feedback they have. Many of their users, for instance, have claimed to be able to have improved sleep and reduced anxiety after taking a spoonful of their trademark CBD-infused honey.
Hempme is currently sold online. Going forward, the company hopes to broaden its reach and land in retailers like Whole Foods, CVS, and Walgreens but right now, the main goal is to educate the community on the benefits of their CBD products. “We offer a free dosing guide on our website to help clear up any confusion about this,” says Yakovlev. And new and improved products are always on the docket. Yakovlev, for instance, is currently experimenting with an ultrasonic homogenizer, which he says hopes will double the absorbability of topical CBD products.