Q&A: The sweet taste of success

This week we chat with Joe Baini, CEO of Melbourne-based Berringa Honey. The company sources Manuka honey from selected apiarists around Australia from which it produces four distinct products, all of which benefit from the antibacterial properties of Manuka: a Manuka honey suitable for everyday use; one that promotes general wellbeing; a honey that aids digestive health; and one that can be used for wound care when applied topically, and that also helps the digestive system when eaten.

ISB: Could you tell us a little bit about what makes Manuka honey so special?

JB: The leptospermum plant, commonly referred to as tea tree, was introduced into Australia in the early 19th century and by 1880s it was recognised that the sap it produced when foraged on by bees made for great honey which was termed Manuka.

Around 2008 we began to make it more readily available and also noted that the extra humidity in Australia made its Manuka more potent than that found in New Zealand – which is more commonly known for its Manuka – giving it greater anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Manuka is bactericidal, meaning it actually kills bacteria, and to date no bacteria has developed resistance to Manuka. Alongside its digestive properties it can be used topically to treat conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and diabetic ulcer sores.

ISB: How did you become involved with the company?

JB: I have a background in the pharmaceutical industry. Peter Woodward, founder of the company over 20 years ago, was looking for a medically based person to run his company. Through his sources, he contacted me at a time when I was working with a number of biotech companies. I joined Peter as CEO to help realise Berringa’s potential by highlighting its health benefits and to position it as more of a health food and associated product, rather than just something tasty you put on your toast.

ISB: How did you fund the ramp up in marketing and production processes that came with the new strategy?

JB: The bank was willing to extend our line of credit on the basis of the agreements and licences that we had in place, and that enabled us to increase production and focus on getting our product into health food stores and pharmacies.

ISB: Which marketing channels did you concentrate on?

JB: We created a digital campaign that highlights Berringa’s heritage and health benefits, so Australian consumers and prospective international partners understand that we have been making honey for over 25 years.

We outsourced the building of our website, but since it has been up and running we manage it ourselves in-house. The website now gets over 1000 hits a day, but we look after our retailers by not selling online direct – we steer potential; customers towards the bricks-and-mortar and online health food stores who stock our products. We are now distributing to retailers in Italy, the UK, China, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam and we are close to signing a deal with a major US retailer.

ISB: And finally, what was the best piece of advice you would pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?

Always, always, always, listen what the consumer is saying. Also, no matter how long you think it’s going to take to reach the benchmarks you set yourself, it will always take longer – but don’t let that worry or frustrate you. That’s just the way it is.

And, when it comes to developing your strategy, do that slowly and deliberately. When it comes to executing that strategy, however, do it quickly and with passion.

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