Five of the world’s seven species of the honeybee and several subspecies are found in Nepal.
The topography, climate and floral variety of Nepal is heaven for bees and bee farming. Yet the industry has been left unexplored and unutilized. So, Naagiko Honey has taken the initiation to produce and market high-quality honey from the high mountains of Silinge, Makwanpur while benefiting the beekeepers as well as the environment.
Read the conversation with the charming, passionate and determined founder of Naagiko Honey- Bibhuti Neupane, to know more about this venture.
1. Can you give us a brief introduction of Naagiko Honey?
Naagiko Honey is a social enterprise established with the objective of providing the local products, produced in rural areas using local resources and local skills, a desirable market through proper branding and various other innovative solutions.
Naagiko Honey, started in December 2018, is working with the beekeepers of Chepang community. We get the locally produced honey from them which we brand and sell in the market. We are also working on the area of increasing the production of honey by developing and enhancing the skills of the beekeepers.
2. What made you start Naagiko Honey?
I had been working in the startup field for quite a few years. In this process, I got an opportunity to work in a social entrepreneurship development project for which I visited Silinge, Makwanpur. During our visit, what we saw was that the village had the production capacity and all the required resources. But due to traditional techniques, the skills, the resources were not being utilized to the optimal level. So, then we decided to start Naagiko Honey.
3. Can you tell us how Naagiko Honey is made?
In the Chepang village of Makwanpur, Chuiri (white flower) is grown naturally and harvested in the month of Mangsir. Then it is processed and sent to us in bulk. The received processed honey after arriving at Kathmandu goes through the filtration and testing process and is then packaged into the final product, Naagiko Honey.
4. How did you propose this particular idea to the beekeepers of Makwanpur?
The beekeepers in Makwanpur were already producing honey but were not getting the proper market and monetary value for their production. Moreover, the middlemen sold adulterated honey decreasing the credibility of the beekeepers and the honey produced by them.
Thus, we offered to help them solve these issues and convinced them that we will not be doing any adulteration of the final product. All they were required to do was provide us with high quality and consistent honey. That’s how they got convinced and so far they’re really happy working with us.
5. What stage is Naagiko Honey in as of now?
We are currently in the growing stage. When we started 1 year back, we had some beekeepers and 2 to 3 people looking after the production. Now we have 8 to 10 people, 5 here in Kathmandu and around 4 to 5 in Makwanpur. Also we have 60 beekeepers working with us and have expanded to 14 outlets in almost a year. In addition to this, our volume is increasing in every batch.
6. So, Naagiko Honey has its own outlet in 14 different places?
No, we do not own those outlets. Our core philosophy and concept is building a community and cross collaborating. So we collaborate with cafes and restaurants and have a separate Naagiko Honey racks and shelves in their places.
7. How do you ensure the quality of the honey?
For quality assurance, we have lab tests. One test is done in the government lab. Likewise, we also do the molecular test, bacteria test which no other companies have done. Only after all these tests, we supply Naagiko honey into the market. This way we are ensuring the quality of our honey.
8. What were the major challenges when starting Naagiko Honey?
When we first started, packaging was the major challenge. There are different brands of honey available in Kathmandu and most of them have plastic packaging but I didn’t want that. So, we decided on using glass jars but this drastically increased the cost and addressing this was a major challenge. Likewise, there is nothing regulated in this particular sector so getting the best price for our products was another challenge. Moreover, Nepal lacks the necessary techniques, technologies, and expertise to produce quality honey at large volume. In other countries, Chuiri tree extracts 200kgs of honey whereas in Nepal we have been able to extract only about 35kgs. So, gaining that expertise was and is still a major challenge.
In addition to this, the logistics management system would be another. Since we use glass bottles, the logistics companies are often hesitant to deal with our products. Likewise, it is difficult to get even simple machinery and tools in the domestic market. We have to import them which is time taking. Also, there are no regulations regarding the standard and quality maintenance so it is difficult to compete with low quality and low-cost honey available in the market. Lastly, competing with other international brands is a huge challenge.
9. You mentioned that packaging has been a major cost to the final product. Have you been thinking of ways to reduce that cost?
It is still a difficulty as we don’t want to compromise with the packaging. If we start selling the honey in plastic bottles, I don’t think it will be compatible with what we want. Every business has an obligation towards the environment and using plastic bottles will make us violate that. So our products are a bit more expensive than those that are available in the market. But we have been working on this issue, we have started knowing where to get the glass bottles at the most affordable price. However, we do offer the cafés and restaurants Naagiko Honey in plastic bottles. But when selling to the general public we make sure we use glass bottles but we urge people to bring their own bottles.
10. Who are your target customers?
The middle and upper-middle-class people, health-conscious people, fitness freak and those who are in medication are our target customers.
11. What are your future plans?
We want to increase our market size. As of now, Naagiko Honey is limited only within the valley so we plan to have outlets in various places around Nepal. We also have a plan of exporting to neighboring countries.
12. What would be your unique selling point?
For now, the flavor, the taste, the natural sweetness and the smell we are able to give to the customers through our product will be our unique selling point and this is not something we are saying, it is what our customers have said for Naagiko Honey. In addition to this, the varieties that we offer would be another unique selling point. Similarly, the way we package our honey is another thing that makes us unique and finally the story behind Naagiko honey another unique feature of Naagiko Honey.
13. What are the different types of honey Naagiko Honey offers?
We have two categories of honey- regular and other honey. Under regular honey, we have chuiri honey and mixed honey. And the other honey includes ginger-infused honey and garlic infused honey. They are all organic, natural, unheated and sugarless.
14. How has your journey been so far?
It has been a complete rollercoaster ride. There have been challenges but there have been satisfying moments too. So, yes the journey has been fun and nerve-racking at the same time.
15. What keeps you going?
I had always wanted to work in the manufacturing sector in a way that benefits the rural people. And Naagiko Honey gave me exactly what I was looking for. So, I am living my dream that is one thing that motivates me every day.
Likewise, through Naagiko Honey the beekeepers in Makwanpur now have a stable income source. They don’t have to depend financially on someone else. So that is another thing that motivates me. Similarly, the prospect and the potential this industry has keeps me motivated.
16. Any unique customer experience you’d like to share with us?
In the initial days, we had this customer who hesitantly purchased our honey but now she is one of the most regular customers we have. Likewise, I have a brother who has the problem of pharyngitis. After he started consuming Naagiko Honey, his pharyngitis has gotten better. In time, the support from my family has also increased; I always get positive feedback from them. This gives us immense joy because at the end of the day, customer response and experience is what matters.
Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya