Billy Bee and Doyon – Canadian Honey Forever

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!

Ah, yes – this is sitting on my own dining table!
Great squeeze bee, eh?

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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11 Responses to Billy Bee and Doyon – Canadian Honey Forever

  1. Pingback: Billy Bee and Doyon – Canadian Honey Forever | How To Raise Bees

  2. Pingback: Billy Bee and Doyon – Canadian Honey Forever | Raising Honey Bees

  3. buzz says:

    the label laws are changing, their false labeling would no longer be legal,volume of imported Chinese, was around 1/2M lbs in 2016, so not a big market seller,.The Canadian consumer was not stupid enought to fall for illegal label due to producer advertisements


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Thanks, but I don’t quite follow your comments:

      “…their false labeling would no longer be legal…” – if packers are currently using false labeling, then it’s already illegal. It would be fraud. Please explain.

      “…illegal label due to producer advertisements.” The producer is the beekeeper, the importer/packer does the advertising, not the beekeeper.

      When was the “Canadian consumer not stupid enough…” ?? What illegal label? This sounds important – I’d like to know what you are saying. If you are referring to “Canada #1 White”, that’s a quality designation, not a source of origin designation.

      You mention “1/2M lbs” of Chinese honey as not much. That’s true, it’s only about one-half of one percent of Canada’s production. Canadian packers import more from other countries than they do from China. That’s what McCormick will have to replace with Canadian. By value of product, New Zealand is the biggest honey exporter to Canada (manuka is expensive), followed by Brazil (mostly ‘organic’ jungle honey), the USA, and Australia. China is way down on the list, just before honey originating in Greece. So, this is not exactly a Chinese honey issue.

      Sorry, I really can’t figure out exactly what you are trying to say. Please explain as you probably have some really good points that readers ought to know. Thanks.


      • buzz says:

        McCormicks natural farms honey, on the front label in large letters it reads Canada #1

        The new label laws will not doubt force billy bee to be up front if they want pack foreign honey and it will not be canada #1

        referring to “Canada #1 White”, that’s a quality designation, not a source of origin designation.True but McCormicks was trying to pull one over on the unwise consumer

        I sold McCormick honey several years ago, they did not have direct deposit, so was paid by cheque, the chegue came from their headquarters in the USA, they are a Canadian company only by name,
        They paid $75M for the brand names and a costumer list and sales potentials
        they did not get a packing plant or any property.They built a new plant,
        These large multi national corporations are crooks in the highest form, they have their own in house lawyers to handle every loophole possible


        Liked by 1 person

      • Ron Miksha says:

        Thanks, Irwin. Just to be clear – the current Canada #1 White label, in place for roughly 100 years, makes no claim for country of origin, but instead is a designation of proper moisture (<18.6%) and Pfund grade. Most consumers would not know this, as you have pointed out. They would logically assume that “Canada #1 Honey” is 100% Canadian. Thanks.


  4. Heather Drinkwater says:

    Thank you for doing the right thing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. buzz says:

    what do think their little adventure in packing Chinese and Argentina honey cost Canadian beekeepers?


    • Ron Miksha says:

      Thanks again. What did ‘their little adventure’ in packing Chinese and Argentine cost Canadian beekeepers? I don’t have any figures, except that for the past five years, the dollar value of Chinese honey imported into Canada has averaged $325,000 per year. Total foreign imports were about $20 million a year from the rest of the world. Brazil’s organic honey is first, followed by Argentina, then New Zealand (manuka honey) is third in dollar value entering Canada. Meanwhile, Canada exported $249,000 last year in honey to China. The growing Chinese middle class is looking for high-quality Canadian honey. My daughter’s honey farm has exported directly to China in the past few years. It’s a growing market that more Canadian beekeepers should pursue.


  6. Pingback: Miel Carlota – Once the World’s Biggest Bee Farm | Bad Beekeeping Blog

  7. Pingback: Are You Giving It Away? | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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