When I started Hiver over 6 years ago now, 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. 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 started to understand the role that bees play in pollinating over 30% of the food that we eat; that this ecosystem is critical to the wider health of the planet and us; the challenges faced by UK beekeepers in maintaining healthy hives and a healthy business; the fact that flavours in honey are derived from the forage source (tree, flower, herb, crop) that 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’. And so I started the trial brews and our flagship beer, the Hiver blonde launched on September 4th 2013.
The decision to source not just ingredients but all supplies across the business from packaging to stationary developed into a UK only sourcing policy which drove further commitment around supporting independent British beekeepers through purchase, and in turn would be one way that we would contribute to healthy bee populations.
I delivered to Hiver’s first ten customers in a zipcar and started a stall on Sundays at the Maltby St Food Market (which is why we consider Bermondsey to be our home and have our Hivequarters, Taproom and Shop there). It quickly became obvious how many consumers were keen to know more about bees and at this point, I realised there was an opportunity to service this interest whilst offering an alternative to the standard brewery tour. I approached Bee Urban, a social enterprise in Kennington Park, with the idea of launching the Hiver Experiences (two hours of beekeeping and beer tastings) at their community urban garden rather than starting one of our own. I’m proud to say that we’ve now welcomed almost 10,000 consumers through that location and a % of our profits and ticket sales are contributing to some of their work both for bees and people in the local area.
The Hiver Experience allows us, in a very relaxed setting, to educate and broaden awareness about bees whilst showing off the ingredient that makes Hiver so unique. We have fantastic partnerships in place with Albourne Estate Vineyard and Bermondsey Street Bees with whom we launched experience locations 2 and 3 this year and now sponsor a number of beehives at key customer locations including the Roundhouse in Camden. Our mission statement is to tell the story of bees and beekeepers through great quality beer and we now talk about being engaging in and out of the glass.
There have been lots of comments over the last few years about Hiver’s authenticity and I think this stems from the fact that our sustainability credentials are tied into our core proposition. As consumers increasingly seek to live their values through the products they consume, brand values and a core proposition that’s built out from something real can genuinely resonate and hopefully enable a brand to create staying power.
In the run up to 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 role is to be enjoyed by the people drinking it and then, if they happen to scratch the surface, they would hopefully find something about how I wanted to do business. I put a lot of time in to ensuring Hiver was “liquid-first” with a presentation to match and behind the scenes I ensured that our sourcing policy and commitment to donating 10% of profits was written into the shareholders agreement. In trying to communicate a serious (no comic bee illustrations for me please) and ambitious brand with guiding principles versus a potentially preachy charity beer, I tried to strike a balance between what was said on pack and what was said in supporting collateral. You have to remember at this point it was just me, a bottle of beer (or a few thousand of them) and a business card, so I made that card do all the ‘sustainable’ talking and spent my last few quid on a seeded business card that could be planted to grow wildflowers and had a key message about planting from our beekeeping community on it.
Looking back, by putting these initiatives in place early on and then seeing that not only were consumers responding to it but that we were winning business as a result of being ‘better’ than the rest , it’s meant that during the inevitable tough times of trying to grow a business, these elements have never come into question. Our drive for quality meant that we won both a European Beer Star Gold as well as two World Beer Challenge Gold medals last year, a best CSR award from the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards and a Best Independent Retailer Award for our Taphouse too. The combination of our sustainability credentials, USPs and awards meant that we recently launched into Sainsburys nationwide as part of their Future Brand scheme so I’d love to think that this approach is helping us chip away at that dream of being THE honey beer!
As much as I’m proud of the way in which we do business, I’d never pretend that we’re perfect. We’re very proud to have recently collaborated with Nando’s and their wonderful ‘Do The Right Thing 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 to be measurable in the ways that we are sustainable, having our ethos in our core proposition ensures that we live it and breathe it every day while simultaneously growing our brand and our commitment to a sustainable future.