Professional Canadian beekeepers know the names of honey packers Jack Grossman and Paul Doyon. Jack started Billy Bee Honey; Paul’s label was regional (mostly Quebec) and his product was/is called Miel Doyon. During the 1970s and 1980s, I sold honey to both of them. I shipped semi-loads of premium, water-white, 15.5% moisture alfalfa-sourced honey from Val Marie, Saskatchewan. The business transaction was a phone call from me, an agreement on price, and then an 18-wheeler would show up, load up, and drive off. I didn’t even get a signed bill of lading. A few weeks later, a cheque would arrive in the mail.
I never met Paul, but I saw Jack at a bee meeting. My favourite story about Jack was that he famously carried note cards to remind himself about different beekeepers. A Saskatchewan beekeeper friend – Don Peer – once asked Jack what was written on the Don Peer card. An address? Honey quality? Price last offered? Jack showed Don his card. All it said was, “Doesn’t need money.” I was about 20 when I heard that story and it taught me a lot. There is power in those three words. Doesn’t need money. I tried to run my business that way – I wanted to never be desperate, never broke, never need money. The expression also means something else. Don Peer was well-off, but not wealthy – after all, he was a beekeeper. But he lived and ran his business in a way that he didn’t get into a jam with cash.
The Billy Bee man, Jack Grossman, was from Toronto. After serving in World War II, he kept a few hives behind his house. He packed honey in his garage and got into some stores. To meet demand in Ontario, he bought honey from other beekeepers. Business grew. His reputation for fairness and timely payment made him popular with beekeepers. His consistent, high-quality honey made his Billy Bee brand a big seller across Canada. Paul and George Doyon started their packing operation in 1927. I suspect that their story is similar because that’s the way you build a business. Honesty, consistency, fairness.
Those men grew old. Jack Grossman passed away, age 92, on this day (April 27) in 2009. In 2008, the international food packer McCormick & Company bought Billy Bee for 75 million dollars. With that purchase, McCormick got $37 million in annual sales plus the Doyon(R) label which Billy Bee had previously acquired. I’m sure that you know McCormick – they specialize in spices and are probably best known for their black pepper. It’s a big company. $37 million in sales is round-off error compared to McCormick’s $4.4 billion revenue last year.
As beekeepers, we depended on the Doyon and Billy Bee sales. They bought Canadian honey; sold Canadian honey. In recent years, stories of McCormick importing some foreign honey for jars of Billy Bee were disappointing, but not unexpected. Honey is cheaper when it comes from countries with lower wages and possibly lax sanitary requirements. Imported honey can be good quality (though there are some horror stories), but supporting Canadian beekeepers is the right thing to do. Besides, our beekeepers use some of their honey money to buy McCormick’s paprika, cinnamon, and ground black pepper. Keeping the money at home allows Canadian beekeepers to buy McCormick products and to keep other Canadians working – building their shops, repairing their vehicles, making their skidoos. But, most important, honey produced in Canada can be readily inspected, traced back to source, and must reach high quality standards to satisfy customers.
So, today’s news – McCormick is committed to using 100% Canadian honey from June of this year and forever after. This is met with cheers and thanks from beekeepers and consumers. Here is part of the news story:
McCormick & Co. says Billy Bee and Doyon products containing all-Canadian honey will start appearing on store shelves in June, while the Billy Bee organic variety will arrive before the end of the year.
Previously Billy Bee products contained at least 85 per cent of the sweetener sourced from Canadian beekeepers, something that has been a source of frustration for the country’s honey industry as some beekeepers say they produce enough to negate the need for any imports.
Andrew Foust, the company’s general manager of Canadian operations, says Canadians have expressed a desire for made-in-Canada honey and the shift is responding to consumer preference.
He said the shift won’t come with a boost in price.
The company will also participate in the True Source Honey certification program, an industry-led effort to ensure the product is ethically and legally sourced.
This is big news. McCormick’s Billy Bee and Doyon brands make up about 60% of all branded honey sales in Canada. This story also shows the power of consumer activism. As Mr Foust said above, “Canadians have expressed a desire for made-in-Canada honey and the shift is responding to consumer preference.” Way to go, consumers!