Beemer, my point of view is very different from what I usually see on these pages. That likely means that I have some rethinking to do, but I can give you what my experence has been to date.
I started keeping honey bees 40 years ago (prior to varroa, SHB etc. Yes the good ole' days.) Schooling and military service required there be a long gap without bees, but I started back a number of years ago.
One thing that very much impresses me is the lack of marketing. Honey itself is poorly marketed and marketing of honeybee pollen is almost non-existent, despite there being a significant baseline demand for the product.
I am very much a proponent of hive products in addition to honey, and pollen is the most profitable.
With the Sundance II top entrance trap the pollen is so clean you can just package it. Some people use a fan and drop the pollen through the air so the bee parts will blow out and the pollen will fall in order to clean pollen. It keeps better if you dry it. Freeze drying is not hard. It tastes best fresh but needs to be kept frozen until consumption.
Pollen traps are readily available, and not terribly expensive. Pollen hold a great many health benefits, and those in the know are willing to pay for it. It is time consuming to harvest because the traps need to be monitored daily. But I gat triple the money for a pint of pollen as I do for honey. When I have it those who use it regularly snap it up so they do not run out.
Properly structured, pollen, as one component of a hive products business should be an easy sell in Seattle. From my position in North Carolina, Seattle has a reputation as being, rightly or wrongly, a very ecocentric yuppy area. As such, one would think one could sell pollen by the boat load.
I would agree with Michael, that the sundance II is my favorite. I have tryed the plastic entrance traps without sucess, to flimsey and confusing for the bees when placed on a mature hive.
I have started placing the traps only on new splits, and this appears to work best. Everyone is new to the entrance and things ramp up slowly such that there are no troubles in adapting to the existance of the trap. Of late I only place a pollen trap on a mature hive in febuary, no confusion and the girls fall right in line.
I have no criticism of the people who trap on an intermitent basis, however, my traps go on the first week in Febuary and come off the first week in November. North Carloina is a well watered, long growing season region of the country. As such, each hive will produce about 50 pounds of trapped pollen a year. We are now into July and the collections are down, but the girls are still bringing in about 3 oz a day per hive. There are a number of research articles and well documented books detailing the adjustments bees make to ensure adequate hive pollen stores. I have no issues with hive brood rearing.
Pollen sells for abour 15 dollars a pound on the internet.
My wife and I do not sell over the internet, maybe someday we will.
My wife is from St. Petersburg, Russia. As such she loves little cafe's and speciality stores. These exist all over. One does not need to live next to a large town. I'm In Mt Holly NC which is a small town, but with a small upscale housing area. These people love to go to small mom and pop coffie shops, etc. (NOT Starbucks) In stores like these we sell more jars of pollen than honey. We have stores begging for us to sell soap with honey and/or pollen and/or propolis in it.
It should be noted that we only sell pollen in stores that have display refrigeration. This is not a problem since most establishments like this sell weird smelly cheese and other speciality products that must be cool.
Eastern European and middle eastern cultures have an advanced appreciation for hive products. As such, my wife loves the stuff and really beleaves in it. She's our saleswoman.
The honey only comes in 1/2 pint jars and the pollen is in the glass (not plastic) 8 ounce honey jar (it holds 3 1/2 oz of pollen). Each sells at the shop for $10 and we get $6. This works out (after packaging) to $7 a pound for honey and $22 a pound for pollen.
We do not sell at farmer's markets. With all respect, that looks like high labor and low return.
As far as processing, that can be a little time consuming. We currently have a little unit from Kelly's, but may need to price a seed cleaner. They sound expensive. Cleaning is important. I agree with Michael that the sundance II produces a clean product. My wife does not mind getting the occasional bee leg stuck between her teeth, but that would be a sales killer if experenced by a customer.
People love something different. They love the impression of being educated about a product. Also keep in mind that you are marketing to the top 20% income customers. Honey is not cane sugar, it is a local speciality product, treat it that way. Pollen is a high protein unique product. It is not a hot dog, so treat it special.
Taste the pollen yourself. I don't like it, but thats OK. Every couple weeks the taste charges. A small extra label on the back of the bottle stating the month it was collected and the plants producing pollen at that time is very helpful and interesting to customers. Check the internet on allergy sites and several will list plant in your local area that are producing pollen in any month or week.
Make statements about the taste of that batch of pollen. For instance, late May is honeysuckle bloom ( I know the bees cannot get to the necter, but the pollen is available to them). My wife swears it tastes like honeysuckle and is especially sweet (OK if you say so). There are other times when it is less apealing (nasty tasteing). Making statement to the effect that Febuary pollen (Red Maple and Elm) has a special bite to it will spur sales.
What else can one say? Propolis is in demand but high work load to collect. Would people pay a premium for local royal jelly? What ya think?
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