Smitty Bee Honey Inc.
Smitty Bee Honey Inc. (SBH) dates back to the 1920s, when Louis Henkelman kept bees as a hobby. Louis’ son-in-law, LaVern Schmitz, turned his hobby into a business, marketing to honey packers in the Midwest. Throughout the 1940s, honey demand increased due to sugar rationing to promote the war efforts and the honey industry grew.
LaVern’s son, Doug Schmitz, worked closely with his father growing up and became a beekeeper himself. Since then, the family business has evolved over four generations, transitioning from a small commercial honey producer to a national leading honey manufacturer. Today, SBH markets its honey products to retailers, distributors and food manufacturers throughout the United States.
Doug started marketing the family’s products in 1989 under the SBH brand. In the late 1980s, changing agricultural practices and the onset of the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder set in and beekeeping efforts began to suffer. Doug knew at this point that SBH needed to change, as well, in order to stay within the honey industry.
In 1990 SBH marketed most of its locally produced honey to small fruit markets and local grocery stores. At this time, honey was valued as a healthier ingredient in comparison to cheaper sweeteners. The focus again shifted to market honey to the food manufacturing industry.
In 2004, the company stopped producing honey entirely, keeping only a few hobby hives. Now, SBH sources honey from beekeepers throughout the Midwest and around the world. The flagship brand is a premium clover honey, which is popular with food service and retail customers. The company also markets Cosecha De Oro brand honey, which is unique wildflower honey specially selected from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Another exclusive blend, called Golden Harvest, is budget friendly and popular with large-batch bakers and mass retailers.
Building a strong hive
SBH’s strong relationships with suppliers and customers have offered stability to the business. Honey is in high demand while shrinking in supply and the team is keeping up with the product’s popularity. “One of the biggest challenges for us over the last few years has been managing our expansion,” explains Geri Birks, project manager for SBH. “We have increased our capacity by 500 percent while adding new employees, production equipment and a processing area. We want to stay committed to the high quality of our products while growing at the same time.”
In 2013, the business added 20,000 square feet to its facility’s production space in Defiance, Iowa.
In 2014, SBH is celebrating 25 years as a honey packer. “As we grow, we continue to set ourselves apart through the integrity of our products and our attention to food safety,” Geri explains. “We are Safe Quality Food [SQF] Level III certified, which only a few others in the industry have achieved. We take great pride in the safety and quality of our honey products.”
The company’s transition from producer to packer distributor has shown great strength for a family business. SBH is able to fill a niche in the market while building partnerships based on integrity and a positive reputation. Customers recognize the value in SBH products. The company provides a diverse product line driven by quality, taste and consumer health.
In the coming years, the company is looking ahead to continued growth. Bringing in product from around the world, SBH supplies the entire country with high-quality honey for grocery stores, restaurants and food manufacturers. “In the coming years, we are staying the course,” Geri says. “As we move forward, we will focus on managing our expansion while maintaining the integrity of our products.” Smitty Bee Honey Inc. takes the sweet stuff seriously, bringing delicious honey to tables around the United States through sound business practices, safety and a passion for its products.