Supplement Perspectives

International Product Spotlight: Beehive Products

Dr. C. Leigh Broadhurst examines the buzz in popularity…and the sting in exporting propolis and royal jelly overseas.

Native to Europe, honeybees (Apis mellifera) have been introduced successfully to every continent except Antarctica. Many cultures revere honeybees more than we do in North America. Consequently, the export market for most bee products is larger than the domestic market. Asian countries, including Singapore and the Philippines, widely regard bee products as promoting superior health. These countries understand that bees are phytochemical experts. Bees have had millions of years to determine which plants in which areas during which seasons provide the correct nutritional, medicinal, and construction materials for the hive to thrive. Humans simply take advantage of this.

Beehive products (e.g., honey, bee pollen, propolis, etc.) are the most diverse set of materials in the natural products industry. Bees cannot be controlled; in order for us to gain from their specialized phytochemical knowledge they must roam freely. Since the bees are doing the collecting, nectar, pollen, and propolis sources/compositions can change hourly. Terms such as “standardized phytomedicinal extract,” “pharmaceutical grade,” and “organic”? Virtually meaningless.

Other cultures freely accept that bees serve as their own organic standards testing service. If the beehive environment is a monoculture filled with pesticides/herbicides, the bees will get sick or die. A wild, relatively pristine environment with a variety of plants blooming spring through autumn supports healthy bee colonies. The “cachet” of locations—including the High Southwestern Desert, Canadian Rocky Mountain Meadow, and Kansas Prairie Wildflower—resonates with Asian customers hailing mainly from densely populated urban areas. Bee pollen from North America is considered clean, pure, and of the highest quality—and worth paying premium prices.  

I spoke with Bruce Brown, CEO of CC Pollen Co. in Phoenix, AZ.

“We’ve been exporting our products for 30 years and importing raw materials for 27 years,” Brown told me. “Currently exports (mainly Asia) are 75 percent of CC Pollen’s business, and they’ve been as high as 85 percent. Most companies in our industry don’t have brand-name identification. We were lucky that people from other countries found us. The story behind the beehive products and a charismatic owner/promoter all helped secure their business. The GMP program certification is a huge effort, but is necessary because markets such as Japan have stringent import requirements. We spend considerable funds to utilize a top-tier German testing laboratory with expertise in beehive products. Few other companies, if anybody else, in the U.S. does this.

“Every country has registration idiosyncrasies and they can be painstaking,” he continued. “Analysis reports must accompany the shipment and include antibiotic, pesticide, and heavy metal content in parts per billion, as well as particular marker compounds for authenticity—e.g., 10-HDA in royal jelly and flavonoids in propolis. The countries you export to often do their own tests, and if they find something above their limitations, it will be rejected. Returned product brings the unwanted attention of the FDA, so there’s double jeopardy from the importing country and the U.S. It’s a very costly proposition.”

On the flip side, honey candy is popular worldwide, and CC Pollen plans to introduce a Fair Trade dark chocolate sweetened with honey to the U.S. market; orange blossom is a unique flavor option. Lessons learned from overseas tastes have also led to the development of elderberry-propolis spray to combat upper respiratory infections, and the concept that a spoonful of honey could be filled with pollen, propolis, royal jelly, vitamins, and trace elements so it functions like a chewable superfood multivitamin.

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