Every summer, between 50,000 and 80,000 bees buzz around a single hive, contributing to the tedious process of producing honey. The collaboration and attention to detail required to produce even a teaspoon of the golden substance undoubtedly makes this one of the most intricate examples of design in the natural world. And this is something that newly launched brand Lumojo has attempted to reflect in the artistic and minimalist packaging of its new honey range via Alt Group.
While we are used to seeing honey in plastic jars on supermarket shelves, where a lot of the packaging looks pretty similar, Lumojo approached Alt Group to develop packaging that could stand out. And the well-awarded team of designers responded by applying the ‘less is more’ ethos so often seen in design elements used by likes of Apple or Scandinavian designers.
In fact, you probably wouldn’t even pick the product as being honey at first glance. The box it arrives in looks similar to what a brand new phone might arrive in, then upon opening the box you’re faced with (in the package we received) three small, rather adorable ceramic pots of honey (the product comes in 400g jars and sets of three mixed 40g taster jars).
Each pot contains a different kind of honey and each one, much like a fine wine, can be matched with certain foods from your classic toast and cereal, to cheese and fruit.
“I’m really happy with the way they turned out,” says Lumojo director Liz Urquhart.
“Honey is such a beautiful product and I look at the work that the bees do and they create naturally stunning honey comb and I looked at that and thought ‘I’m not really sure that they do it justice in some of the packaging we put it in’, but wouldn’t it be neat to look at them as little artists and take what they're doing and package it in ceramic pots that look like art.”
She says the ceramics are a play on the traditional honey pot. “We were very keen on ceramics as something quite different than what’s out there currently, and actually crafting a handmade ceramic honey pot was something we felt would be more premium and would really celebrate the bees.”
Urquhart says during the design process she stressed that she didn’t want any pictures of bees or hives to appear on the packaging and she says the design has been thought out, right down to the clever font for the logo, which is based on the shape of honeycomb.
“Lots of [honey brands] have [bees] on their logos, I wanted it to be very clean and sophisticated and inspired … I think it’s elegant. That’s the sort of design I like to buy and I know Alt Group pride themselves on that kind of thing, you don’t want to clutter it.”
So, was all this pretty expensive?
“Yes, it’s not cheap to do it because the project for us, from concept to now, has been two years. So at least nine months of that was a focus on just the packaging and getting that right and doing samples and prototypes and testing different glazes and getting potters to experiment with things,” she says.
“Then once you have landed it you have to get stuff made and bottled. It has taken some time. I don’t want to share the cost but it’s one of those things that you do because you are passionate about it and you believe in what you’re doing and if you love doing it then you’ve got to go for it.”
She says the product is only available online at the moment, but Lumojo will talk to some retailers eventually, probably in Auckland to start with. “I want to make sure we get our online presence and built up our followership through social media and then talk to retailers.”
Urquhart says there isn’t one specified target demographic yet, as such. “We will have a few different groups. Once the product launches, that’s when you really find out what the consumer base is like.”
However, she expects the product will sit nicely in the gift space. “And that’s not particular to certain demographics. Young people might look for a Mother’s Day gift or an elderly person might look for something for their daughter-in-law. It could be a Christmas gift, or something for a christening or wedding,” she says.
“We normally default to the tried and tested box of chocolates or bottle of wine, but this is a nice alternative. Something that is a beautiful form of art with a beautiful product inside. It’s good for you, and [the buyer] gets to keep the little honey pots once the honey is gone. If someone bought that for me I’d be pretty happy,” she says.
“Honey is interesting because you get more gourmet premium honey but then you get everyday type honey. A more commodity and grocery type product you couldn’t put in this kind of packaging, as you wouldn’t be able to make your product model work,” she says.
“If you want to package it in a hand-crafted pot, you need to pitch it to a market to make the business model work. I think we play in an interesting space. With our price points and positioning we could switch into both worlds. We could be in an up end grocery place as a premium grocery item but we can also play in that gift space which is more for scents or diffusers or candles or things like that that you would see in people’s homes.”
Urquhart says she decided to work with Alt Group because due to her background in advertising as a copywriter, she followed design awards and loved the aesthetic of what Alt Group was putting out.
“There was some real innovation but really clean design and I liked that aesthetic for the honey pot. And I thought, well if I’m going to work with anyone I’d like to work with those guys.”
She says Alt Group doesn’t normally work with start-ups, but she called up and pitched her idea anyway. “And they agreed to work with me, which was awesome … they have been a really cool part of this and they have been instrumental in the design and also pushing and challenging concepts of the brand’s personality. They’ve been a very comfortable partner, I feel lucky to be able to work with them.”
The quality of the honey has to match the design too, of course and she says she talked to beekeepers all around the country to source quality honey.
“I look for honey suppliers who are craftsman themselves and have a specific way of producing it. All beekeepers are very in tune with the land but we want to work with some of the top operators so you have to go and meet these guys and make sure you understand how they run their business and where they gather honey from and how they do that and what are their philosophies on life,” she says.
“Which sounds soft and fluffy but that’s how we established contact with people, where we respect the way they operate and the quality of honey they produce.”
And where does this name Lumojo come from, we wondered.
“It’s a made up word and you probably won’t find it in the dictionary,” jokes Urquhart. “It’s a combination of the concept of luminous energy, and mojo from that intrinsic energy you get from honey, and that’s sort of the way I think about honey. It’s a luminescent, beautiful product that does give you energy.”
She says there will be some promotional activity over the next few months and eventually she would like to export the product. “I really want to make sure I develop our brand in New Zealand as a New Zealand brand [first]. I want to learn how our customers think, see how they react and then refine any exporting strategy. I think it’s better to start a business close to home so that you can really engage with your customer base and learn things from them,” she says.
Premium products, or rather everyday consumables that are being identified, remade or rebranded as premium products are really taking off.
For example, craft beer. ANZ’s 2015 industry insight says the craft beer industry in New Zealand grew by forty percent within a year.
Craft beer also added $22.3 million to the economy in 2014.
There seems to be premium products popping up in many sectors, finding holes in markets. Think Lewis Road Creamery, Puhoi venturing into the milk market, Whittaker’s launching artisan style chocolate, Pic’s peanut butter (and other various fancy peanut butter brands that are popping up.
Consumers are finding value in the idea of going back to basics, celebrating the handmade, the locally sourced ingredients or locally produced products.
Amazon has even launched its own craft marketplace, which allows artisans to set up a profile and sell their handmade goods to a local customer base.
And honey seems like a pretty smart market to tap into. According to the 2014/2015 Apiculture report by the Ministry of Primary Industries world demand continues to lift prices for New Zealand honey, led by the demand for manuka honey.
The report says the minimum price received for bulk honey was around $7 per kilogram, a return not seen for any honey except manuka and the best clover honeys a few years back.
“Prices for New Zealand honey have shown no signs of softening, while world honey prices recently fell from previous highs indicating that some consumers are prepared to pay a premium for New Zealand honey,” the report says.
The 2014/15 season produced “another” record honey crop at an estimated 19,700 tonnes and hive numbers reached 575 000 in June 2015, an increase of 68,625 hives from the previous year.
New Zealand exports of pure honey reached 9,046 tonnes and $223 million in the year to 30 June 2015, an increase of four percent in volume and almost 20 percent in value on the previous year.
Despite the demand for manuka honey, there has been no conclusive studies of its medicinal and dietary value other than the antibacterial activity demonstrated in medical-grade honey used as a topical antiseptic, according to Consumer New Zealand.
In June, a UK trade magazine called The Grocer published the results of a lab test of seven randomly selected jars of manuka honey. Five failed to meet their claimed levels of antibacterial activity, according to Consumer.
There has also been criticism of the UMF rating system for manuka honey, which is supposed to measure the honey’s antibacterial activity when compared with phenol, an antiseptic.
“There’s no hard evidence manuka honey has proven antibacterial benefits when eaten. That’s something to keep in mind when you’re comparing a jar of expensive ‘15+’ manuka honey with a cheaper brand,” says Consumer’s Luke Harrison.
But, medicinal properties or not, honey is delicious and people love it. And with bee colonies having a bit of a tough time lately, it’s only going to increase people’s appreciation for the product, and we’re sure demand won’t be faltering anytime soon.