Suzie and Iain Millar are on a mission to increase the bee population – and get more people enjoying the health benefits and great, natural taste of Scottish heather honey, finds Karen Peattie.

Running any kind of business with a three-year-old and new baby would challenge anyone but for social entrepreneurs Suzie Millar and her husband, Iain, their love of honey bees has kept them buzzing with enthusiasm for moving The Scottish Bee Company into the next phase of its growth.

Suzie and Iain founded the business in 2017, driven by their love of bees and passion for the environment. “We were aware of the decline in the bee population and when I started chatting to bee farmers, they told us how they struggled to get funding,” says Suzie. “Then when we learned that much of the honey consumed in the UK is imported from around the world, we decided to do something to help.”

The plan was to supply bee farmers in Scotland with hives, buy their honey from them at the end of the season at the normal price, then sell it. It was a vision that soon became a reality. The Scottish Bee Company was born and the company – based in Livingston in West Lothian but soon to move into new, bigger premises – has about 500 hives, equating to some 25 million bees at the height of summer.

“We need more homegrown, bee-friendly honey here,” says Suzie, who has recently become an accredited honey sommelier. “Honey is simply amazing – it has so many health benefits, it’s good for nature because bees pollinate so many of our plants and put food back into the environment.

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“Honey is also a superfood,” Suzie points out, referring to a recent scientific study that revealed The Scottish Bee Company’s heather honey, produced in beehives in the Lothians, Dumfriesshire, Stirlingshire, Fife and Aberdeenshire, is a “superfood”. That’s because it contains up to 10 times more of the essential micronutrient, manganese, compared to 200 of its global rivals, including manuka.

Manganese is an essential mineral. As well as its high antioxidant qualities, it plays a role in helping to make and activate enzymes in the body involved in protecting tissues from damage and in the metabolism of nutrients. It also helps maintain healthy bones.

“We’re learning more about honey all the time,” enthuses Suzie. “There’s so much more to it than meets the eye when you consider its amazing healing properties. Even the NHS recommends hot lemon with honey as a remedy for coughs.”

Of course, there’s something else about honey that is a no-brainer: it tastes great. “This is one of the reasons I decided to become a honey sommelier,” explains Suzie. “We talk about food and wine pairing, food and whisky pairing – but honey also works well with certain foods with cheese a great example.

“We’ve worked with a mixologist and chefs to help us understand more about different taste sensations and flavours. For example, honey works well with a tart, salty taste so it’s great in stir-fries.”

The Scottish Bee Company’s heather honey available to buy in upmarket food halls such as House of Bruar and Selfridges, cheesemonger IJ Mellis and via the firm’s online shop – with 10p from every jar of honey purchased donated to RePollinate, its own charity which aims to protect all types of pollinators through wildflower spaces and education programmes.

It is also the first food product in the UK to be awarded the British Standards Institution (BSI) Kitemark verification for provenance, a recognised symbol worldwide. “We were shocked to learn that honey is on Interpol’s list as one of the most adulterated and fraudulent food products so have the Kitemark should give our customers confidence that when they buy a jar of our Scottish heather honey that’s exactly what they are getting,” Suzie points out.

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And as the value of global Scotch whisky exports continues to grow, The Scottish Bee Company is targeting new markets in the Far East for its own amber nectar, meaning that provenance is even more important. “We’re really excited to be following in the footsteps of Scotch whisky by bringing our own unique taste of Scotland to the Far East,” says Suzie.

“Foodies in Japan and Singapore demand premium quality honey like ours, so it’s a buoyant market. They test everything and want to know that they are getting a great tasting product with clear health benefits.

“The provenance and heritage of Scottish honey is also akin to the Scotch whisky market, adding to its appeal in the Far East.”

Over eight tonnes of The Scottish Bee Company’s heather and blossom honey worth around £100,000 will be exported to the Far East, destined for high-end health and speciality food retailers, in the next 12 months alone.

“We’re also planning to do more work to develop our export activity in the USA and Europe, and our online shop is able to ship throughout Scotland, the rest of the UK, northern Europe and the USA within seven days.”

This year, the company has spread its wings by diversifying into shrub cordials and vinegars. A shrub is a non-alcoholic syrup used to make drinks, and contains apple cider vinegar, known for its health benefits, concentrated fruits, sugars and aromatics.

The Scottish Bee Company’s three new shrub flavours are Strawberry & Mint, Spiced Apple & Bramble and Raspberry & Ginger. “Shrubs have become more popular in the UK over the last few years as people have been looking for complexity in flavour both for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks,” says Suzie.

The new vinegars are also made in Aberdeenshire and have been designed to showcase a taste of Scotland, bringing some fruitiness to roasted vegetables or sharpness to salads. The three new flavours are Strawberry & Peppercorn, Raspberry & Thyme and Bramble & Sage.

Suzie adds: “We’ve stayed close to our roots with this range as all of the products are made by one of our beekeeper’s wives on a smallholding in Aberdeenshire. The fruit and botanicals found in the shrubs and vinegars have been foraged and harvested near our hives, so our bees not only produce our honey but play a vital role pollinating the fruit trees and plants that go into our new range.”

For Suzie and Iain, their ambition is to recognised as Scotland’s “ultimate honey experts” as they grow their business, expand their product range, and continue to raise awareness of the importance of bees to the planet.