When I started Hiver over six years ago, I was committed to the idea that quality and ethos go hand in hand. In aspiring to create ‘the honey beer’, I knew that being the best would offer some future protection to a fledgling business. So I did my research and made sure I knew everything I could about honey, bees and beekeepers (I already had the beer bit sorted).
I came to understand that bees pollinate over 30% of the food that we eat; that this ecosystem is critical to the wider health of the planet; the challenges faced by UK beekeepers in maintaining healthy hives and a healthy business; that flavours in honey are derived from the forage source (tree, flower, herb, crop) the bees have gathered nectar from; and that it was these varietals of raw British honeys that were going to enable me to have a chance at producing ‘the honey beer’. I started the trial brews and our flagship beer, the Hiver Blonde, launched in September 2013.
Early on, I made the decision to source not just ingredients but all supplies across the company – from packaging to stationery – from within the UK. This policy then drove further commitment around supporting independent British beekeepers through purchase, and in turn became one of the ways that we’d contribute to healthy bee populations.
I delivered to Hiver’s first ten customers in a Zipcar and started a Sunday stall at a food market near London’s Tower Bridge. I quickly realised that consumers were keen to know more about bees and there was an opportunity to service this interest while offering an alternative to the standard brewery tour. I therefore approached BeeUrban – a social enterprise in Kennington Park – with the idea of launching the Hiver Experience (two hours of beekeeping and beer tasting) at their community urban garden. We’ve now welcomed almost 10,000 consumers and a percentage of our profits and ticket sales are contributing to BeeUrban’s work, both for bees and people in the local area.
The Hiver Experience allows us, in a relaxed setting, to educate and broaden awareness about bees while showing off the ingredient that makes our beer so unique. Last year we launched two new experience locations – Albourne Estate Vineyard and Bermondsey Street Bees – and we also now sponsor beehives at key customer sites including the Roundhouse in Camden. Our mission is to tell the story of bees and beekeepers through great quality beer, engaging consumers both “in and out of the glass”.
There’s been much comment about Hiver’s authenticity, and I think this stems from the fact that our sustainability credentials are so closely tied to our core proposition. As consumers increasingly seek to live their values through the products they consume, brand values that are built out from something real can genuinely resonate, and hopefully enable a brand to create staying power.
Before launching Hiver, I was concerned about it being perceived as either gimmicky or solely focused on charitable giving. I didn’t want to forget that, as a consumer brand, our primary role is for people to enjoy the product. Then, if they happen to scratch the surface, they’ll hopefully find out more about the company. I therefore put a lot of time into ensuring Hiver is “liquid-first” with a presentation to match, and behind the scenes ensured that our sourcing policy and commitment to donating 10% of profits was written into the shareholders’ agreement.
In trying to communicate a serious and ambitious brand (no comic bee illustrations for me please) with guiding principles vs a potentially preachy charity beer, I aimed to balance the on-pack messages with those in supporting collateral. At this point it was just me, a few thousand bottles of beer … and a business card which I made do all the ‘sustainable’ talking – spending my last few quid on a seeded card that carried a key message about planting from our beekeeping community and could then be planted to grow wildflowers.
Looking back, it was right to put these initiatives in place early on. Consumers responded well and we won business by being ‘better’ than the rest. During the inevitable tough times of trying to grow a brand, these elements never came into question. Our drive for quality has seen us win a string of awards which, combined with our sustainability credentials and USP, has led to us recently launching nationwide in Sainsburys as part of their Future Brands scheme. I’d love to think this approach is helping us chip away at that dream of becoming ‘the honey beer’!
As proud as I am of the way we run the company, I’d never pretend that we’re perfect. We’ve recently collaborated with Nando’s and their wonderful Do the Right Thing sustainability team headed up by Henry Unwin. The experience of working with them has really inspired us to consider what more we can and should be doing to tread lightly. While we don’t currently have the structure in place to measure our sustainability efforts, having our ethos embedded in our core proposition ensures that we live and breathe it every day – while simultaneously growing our brand and our commitment to a sustainable future.