“I think a big factor in our success is that we have always retained our roots, always kept the focus on honey,” says Wilco Schets, Managing Director of Imkerij de Traay B.V. “We are still beekeepers, so we know where to buy honey and how to recognize quality.”
At the same time, sticking to its roots has never stopped de Traay from being at the forefront of innovation, adding new honey varieties, such as eucalyptus, coriander or manuca honey; and new products, such as royal jelly, organic sweeteners or honey-based cosmetics; as well as developing new packaging ideas.
“Innovation has always been very important; it is virtually the lifeline of our company,” adds Mr. Schets. The Managing Directo also stresses the positive energy and workplace culture within the company. “Skilled people are difficult to get,” Mr. Schets states. “Therefore, we are very supportive of our staff and try to create a conducive working environment. We have a lot of good people here, and we are a great team.”
Around 50 members of staff work for de Traay today, raising annual revenues of around 30 million EUR. The mainstay of this is still the honey, which makes for 90% of the turnover while natural sweeteners and cosmetics share the remaining 10% evenly.
“Concerning our honey we have a mixed customer base,” states the Managing Director. Around 30% is produced for the industry, another 30% goes to retailers as private label products, while 35% is delivered to health stores. “The industry we deliver to is also partly organic.”
It was this organic approach that led to Mr. Schets joining the company in 2001. “I grew up in an area that has been shaped by agriculture and have seen the changes that have come about over the past 40 years, the industrialized monocultures,” he explains. “I felt we should do things differently and live our lives with a greater awareness. Working in the organic sector is my way of paying my contribution.”
While this attitude may honour Mr. Schets as a person, it also benefits the bees. “Bees are classed as an endangered species,” the Managing Director says. “As beekeepers we know there are different reasons for this.”
One of those reasons, as he goes on to explain, is the lack of wildflowers translating into a shortage in nectar and thus in pollen. “Monocultural landscapes are a threat to bees,” Mr. Schets emphasizes.
Another threat to the world’s bee populations is the Varroa mite, an invasive mite that originated in China. The Varroa mite carries a virus, deadly for the young bees if too many mites infest the hive, causing the bees to leave and the colonies to collapse. This amount of disorder may lead to the death of entire colonies. However, intensive treatment and regular inspections of the hives help to control the problem.
“Care is important. To a large extent, this is a matter of diligence,” says Mr. Schets. “It has been our experience that, if you take good care, the mites are not a big problem. But large beekeeping companies with thousands of hives can’t do that. If a company has 10,000 hives and notices a problem, they take into account that they will lose hives.”
This is particularly the case in the USA, where there are large firms and few beekeepers, leading to mite infestation being a big problem. “We specialize in quality honey produced in small to medium quantities,” points out Mr. Schets. “That is where we want to grow: organic honey, gourmet honeys such as acacia, sunflower, lavender or chestnut honey in small quantities. We prefer a sustainable pace.”
For this reason, de Traay focuses on European honeys, “The mite problem is slowly diminishing in the Netherlands and Germany,” he adds.
Germany, together with France, is also one of de Traay’s main export markets – about 20% of the company’s products are destined for abroad. Two sales agents for Germany and Belgium represent the company with potential customers. While social media such as Facebook, the Internet in general and magazines are marketing chanels, but true to its personal approach, de Traay prefers direct contact with its customers, taking part in many trade fairs.
“We believe in talking directly to customers, in tasting and sampling,” says Mr. Schets. It is only fitting for this down-to-earth company to plan consolidation and focus on processes and people in the near future. “We want to invest in automation, IT infrastructure, a new warehouse and greater efficiency,” the Managing Director states. “As for the market, organic growth in quality honey remains important, and buyer channels focus on as close as possible to home. We will invest even more in direct contact with beekeepers and cooperations of beekeepers, as traceability and transparency are increasingly important.”