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Just Bee enjoys the taste of honey

Innovative thinking sees business shift to a new product and thrive

The overview

Launched by Joe Harper and Andy Sugden in 2015, with the help of the Hub’s business start-up programme, Just Bee produced fruity water drinks infused with honey.

The company worked with the Hub’s Growth team to develop the product and bring it to market, and by mid-2016 had gained listings in Boots, Booths and Waitrose. However, to continue the company’s growth, Just Bee required equity investment to fund additional stock and provide working capital. 

Pitch Perfect

Working with the Hub’s Access to Finance team, Joe developed a pitch which he presented to a NW Business Angels investor event. This led to an investment of £200,000 from two key angels from the food and drinks industry.

In 2018, they again worked with the Hub to develop a pitch and investment summary for another GC Angels investor event, this time securing £150,000 of equity funding and £100,000 of debt funding from Angelfish Investments Plc. The equity funding allows the investor to take shares in the company, whereas the debt element will be repaid over a fixed term.

The drink had become particularly popular with retailers as part of a meal deal. However, when lockdown kicked in, and people began to work from home rather than the office - and so weren’t popping out for lunch – sales began to dip, and by April 2020 had dropped by 80%.

Just Bee was forced to take the difficult step of pausing drink production and informing clients that for the time being at least, they would no longer be supplying drinks. This left the question of what to do next?

Hive of Industry

Back in 2019, the business had received positive feedback after testing a newly developed Vitamin Honey with a small group of customers. Using a database of emails from the drink’s website, Just Bee carried out a soft launch to customers in June 2020 and were blown away by the response.

Just over a year on, and the business is now four time bigger than it was, with the vitamin honey sold through the company’s e-commerce website, as well as Amazon.

The honey is brought in from outside suppliers but processed in-house. It is fortified with vitamins, before being blended, put into jars and labelled, adding a new manufacturing element to the business.

Joe has also started working with Andy Hinton, a specialist manufacturing advisor from the Hub who is providing expert advice around requirements for the SALSA food safety standard, as well as the need to consider Building Regulations requirements when making changes to structures and facilities within premises to make fit for purpose for honey production. Andy has also carried out an initial review of the current manufacturing processes, identifying bottlenecks and potential process control areas that could be improved with possible solutions to increase productivity. He has also introduced the business to Made Smarter, which helps manufacturing companies to adopt the digital technologies they need to take the business forward.

The switch to honey has also seen the company take on five new full-time employees, and with demand continuing to grow, Joe is looking to move into new larger premises next spring.

As Joe adds: “We had to do a lot of thinking on our feet and act quickly to be able to pivot the business like this. The fact we have been able to make such a success of this is partly down to the solid base the business was given through our early work with the Growth Hub, particularly the Access to Finance team.”

If you are based in Greater Manchester or Lancashire, you can access fully-funded, tailored support through the Access to Finance team which has significant knowledge of the funding landscape and extensive relationships with:  

  • Business Angel networks    
  • Venture Capital 
  • Public Sector Funds 
  • Alternative emerging sources such as International Investors (via UK Home Office Innovator Visa’s)

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