Learn about how a young entrepreneur entered the honey industry at age 15 with a few gifted beehives and grew the business to become one of the biggest honey exporters in the South Island.
100% Pure New Zealand Honey founder Steve Lyttle left school at 15 and set to work as a commercial beekeeper with beehives gifted to him from a family friend. Steve and his brother Peter ran a successful operation before Steve started his current business, focused on honey packing and exporting, in 1996.
“After 20 years of highs, lows and hard work we’ve been able to grow this honey business into one of the largest in the South Island,” says Steve.
Steve has now stepped back from the business and a good succession plan has meant Chief Executive Sean Goodwin is now able to lead and grow the Timaru-based business.
“It’s a privilege to be able to join a family business that has the heart and values from a founder like Steve,” says Sean.
Early on the going was tough, with little profit being made. The business was growing and developing organically and there was no clear strategy.
“For the first six years we were really struggling with cashflow, living hand to mouth every day,” says Steve.
“Then in year seven we turned a corner, the international market really kicked off, Manuka honey become popular and the financial pressure we had been under eased considerably.”
The business is export focused, with products sold in 16 countries. The road to becoming established in these countries wasn’t always smooth but with patience, the effort has paid off. Asia in particular has proven to be a strong market due to the population base and growing interest in health and wellness.
“We carefully choose where we spend our energy and always think about the future to reap the best long-term return,” says Sean.
As exporting makes up the majority of the business, one of the biggest issues they faced was dealing with the different exporting rules and regulations.
Selling products in different markets overseas meant learning new rules and regulations, particularly in China.
100% Pure New Zealand Honey has contributed to many industry groups and initiatives over the years, including the current proposal from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to create a regulatory standard for Manuka honey.
“Help from government agencies, including MPI and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) can be invaluable,” says Sean.
“For example, understanding how tariffs work in different markets means we can have a more competitive product, while tools such as the NZ Story can really assist with consumer marketing.”
Market your business on the world stage (external link) — The New Zealand Story
100% Pure New Zealand Honey source and sell some of New Zealand’s best quality honey under their own label.
“Many people don’t necessarily know a lot about New Zealand, but they have an idea that we are pure, genuine, and a lot cleaner and greener than their own countries,” says Sean.
“However our brand is about more than just honey or our natural environment. We’re not a corporate or investor simply looking for a financial return. We’re using our profile and brand to try to create something bigger, which we call our ‘World of Good’.
“That’s about both physical and social good. It’s about health, energy, environment and sustainability. It’s also about community, education, trust, self-esteem and happiness.”
Being a family business, a lot of importance has always been placed on family values and the 'World of Good' philosophy extends to how they view their suppliers and customers.
“We take care of our environment, our products, our people, and a great deal of our focus is on our quality and integrity across these.”
Several years ago, Steve realised that he was ready to step back from the business and bring in new leadership. In 2014, Sean took on the role of Chief Executive and he is now also the Deputy Chair of Apiculture NZ, the beekeeping and honey industry sector group.
“The role gives me full responsibility for making strategic decisions for the business, and allows me to draw on my previous experience working for big food brands,” says Sean.
The succession plan has proven to be a positive move for both Sean and Steve and the business is continuing to strengthen and grow since Sean took over the reins.
“It’s an exciting time to be part of the honey industry, and I’m happy to be taking a leadership role across both a successful small business that’s punching above its weight, as well as helping our industry to deliver better long-term returns for everyone,” says Sean.
Steve has three pieces of advice for small business starting out: