What's the deal with honey prices?

Posted by John B on

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while at an event or through a customer service email, we’ll hear, “Why is your honey so expensive?  I can get a plastic honey bear bottle at the grocery store for practically nothing!” The answer is simple: it’s real honey from domestic beekeepers that we know and trust.  With the rise in popularity of major food documentaries like Rotten on Netflix, customers are becoming more discerning in their food purchasing decisions, and the demand for authentic honey that can be traced back to the hive responsible for its production is increasing.  It’s a real turning point for the honey business where dishonesty and questionable sourcing and bottling practices have long ruled the industry.

Beekeeper inspecting frame of honey and bees

The United States is by far the largest honey importer in the world.  With such a huge demand for honey in the US, it's been standard practice to blend honey from multiple countries and sources to reduce the overall cost and increase profit margins.  According to the National Honey Report published by the USDA in May 2020, imported honey from India can cost just $0.77 per pound after all fees, duties, and shipping costs are factored in.  This stands in stark contrast to domestically produced honey, which can cost as much as $3.50 per pound, or more, depending on the honey varietal and region of production.  Without much regulation or enforcement, honey companies will blend honey imported from India with domestic honey, reduce their costs, and pass on those savings to the end consumer.  The result of this decades-long practice has been to condition the American public to artificially low honey prices.  Simply put, a domestic beekeeper cannot compete with honey imported from other countries.  With the advent of the “slow food” and “locally sourced” movement, there is renewed interest in localism and increased awareness of the high costs associated with beekeeping and the resulting prices for domestically-produced raw honey.

Packaged raw honeycomb resting on top of open beehive

While imported honey has certainly changed the pricing landscape of honey in America, not all imported honey is bad.  Honey is like wine and the flavors, colors, sugars, and mineral content of the honey will all vary with the nectar source and geographic location of the producing colonies.  To limit yourself to domestically produced honey would be to write off hundreds of unique honey varieties that are native to other parts of the world.  Some of my favorite honey types are sourced from European hives.  Acacia honey, in particular, is one of my favorite European varieties often sourced from Italy or Hungary.  The problem isn’t importing honey, really.  To say so would be to deny the spectrum of flavors available and the wonderful work of the international beekeeping community.  The real issue is the varying standards for agricultural production from country to country that allow for incredibly cheap production of agricultural commodities like honey.  So yes, Karen-that-has-to-point-out that she can go to Family Dollar and get 12 oz of honey for $1.99, there is cheaper honey available.  But think of the real cost of that honey--it’s been blended together with honey sourced from all over the world produced in questionable conditions and with limited production standards. 

Honey truly is like wine, craft beer, or a fine cigar--there’s Barefoot, Mad Dog, or two-buck chuck, but there are so many better options to be had. When you see honey advertised as being "local," ask yourself, "does their pricing reflect the industry standard for domestic honey?"  Is it locally produced or just locally bottled?  If the prices seem too good to be true, you better believe the honey is a blend of internationally sourced honey and syrups.  I don't care what the label says or what their marketing department would have you believe.  Treat yourself.  Get the good stuff.  Check out our selection of artisanal raw honey; they’re the bee’s knees. 


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