How Pass the Honey Sources Regenerative Honeycomb
Pass the Honey goes to great lengths to guarantee a pure honeycomb snacking experience. Working with leaders in regenerative agriculture, collaborating with generational beekeepers, and leveraging cutting-edge food testing technology, the company has redefined what honeycomb sourcing looks like. But this framework wasn’t always so clear.
In a honey industry saturated with fraudulent practices, Pass the Honey’s Founder Douglas Raggio set out to share the integrity of raw honey through honeycomb.
As Douglas explains in this interview, finding honeycomb free from chemicals was only the beginning of what would become a collaborative effort and larger mission that supports bees and apiarists around the world.
This is Pass the Honey’s honeycomb sourcing story.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Question: What signs of purity were you looking for when sourcing honeycomb for Pass the Honey?
Answer: Being in the food and beverage industry for the better part of two decades, I knew liquid honey was the third most fraudulent food on the planet. With 70% of liquid honey being fraudulent, it simply can’t be trusted. My thought was that I would sidestep the problem and go straight to the honeycomb—go right to the source.
I assumed that if we sourced honeycomb, it would be purer than liquid honey, because you can't blend and you can't heat honeycomb.
However, the challenge then became finding a supplier. Who’s supplying honeycomb, and who’s willing to do it at scale? It turns out that not many commercial operations are selling larger quantities of honeycomb.
So it was initiated with a question of purity, but evolved into who could actually provide honeycomb at scale, and who was willing to cut it to our specifications.
Question: What made you decide to source honeycomb globally instead of in the US?
Answer: It turns out that no one who is sourcing honeycomb on a commercial scale is sourcing in the United States. Sadly, this is due to prolific pesticide use, poor apiary practices, and the accumulation of pesticides in the wax itself. So, sourcing honeycomb alone wouldn’t cut it.
In fact, many of the commercial operations we approached know of the bioaccumulation of pesticides in the wax and wouldn’t sell to us at the volumes we require. It’s a dirty little secret in beekeeping circles.
Question: How did you end up finding and working with Pass the Honey's current beekeeper partners?
Answer: I wanted to know, if we can’t source clean honeycomb in the US, where could we source it? So, we hired Terra Genesis International to do a global study to find the best regions for honeycomb. That was the foundation of really understanding what problems we had and what regions we could source from, which then narrowed my scope on who we could even talk to.
We conducted interviews based on those results and ended up choosing a supplier in Turkey. Turkey has a long history of beekeeping. Honey is a part of their culture, and they take pride in it. We work with a US-based company to import the honeycomb, and they’ve been working with these third-generation beekeepers for more than 50 years. They could adhere to our standards, and they were willing to hand-cut the comb.
Question: When and how did Pass the Honey's regenerative standards for honeycomb come into play?
Answer: I was intent on sourcing the highest quality honeycomb. The elegance of honeycomb is that product quality is intimately linked to the ecosystem it comes from. I cannot think of another product that has such a tie to its source.
At the time, there were no standards on regenerative agriculture. But we needed a way to communicate to our beekeeper partners what our expectations were. We had to take on the task to ensure they’re educated about our expectations for them to use regenerative beekeeping practices that benefit the ecosystem rather than extract from it, which also results in the purest honeycomb. The best comb comes from the best bees and diverse landscapes.
So Terra Genesis was brought in again, to really set what we considered regenerative standards. That led to the development of the Regenerative Honeycomb Continuum, which is our regenerative standards, and the Regenerative Honeycomb Initiative.
The Regenerative Honeycomb Continuum standards are divided into three categories: degenerative, sustainable, and regenerative. We don’t accept honeycomb produced with degenerative or sustainable methods. Our 2020 audit found that our partners use methods that fall squarely within our regenerative standards.
Question: How does Pass the Honey ensure their beekeeper partners are adhering to regenerative practices?
Answer: After our regenerative standards were defined, we worked with a group called INSCATECH that does forensic audits on the ground. That’s how our audits are conducted. We also test the honeycomb with 3rd-party, independent labs.
INSCATECH introduced us to Sweetwater Science Lab, which uses nuclear magnetic resonance testing (NMR)—that is the highest level of testing available. There are currently only two pieces of this equipment in the world that can conduct that level of testing for food and honey in particular.
NMR testing allows us to break down the molecular structure of the honey and the comb to validate its purity but also to identify the source of the pollen by matching it against a global pollen library. This ensures that it actually is coming from where we’re told it’s from. It breaks apart everything and we can see if it's been heated, we can see if it's been manipulated, we can see if the bees have been fed sugar water, what kind of sugar water they've been fed. Honeycomb that doesn’t pass the test according to our standards is rejected. We actually have a blacklist of producers now.
Question: How do regenerative standards for honeycomb benefit beekeepers and the honey industry?
Answer: You get what you pay for, and the general consumer is currently paying for fake honey that doesn’t support beekeepers and actually harms the bee population. We hold our beekeepers to a higher standard and we compensate above market rate for their commitment to our regenerative practices.
Our model also provides stability to those beekeepers. We want to develop relationships and create legacy and change and ecosystem. This goes back to our company essence: Evolving apiary practices and ecological diversity beyond what's perceived possible. To co-create with bees and beekeepers.
To really evolve aviary practices, we need to compensate beekeepers fairly and educate them in practices that enhance ecological diversity.
Question: Why is honeycomb purity important?
Answer: Other than supporting beekeepers, bees, and doing a good thing for the environment, pure honeycomb is better for the consumer from a health perspective. Adulterated honey has been heated or blended, so it doesn’t have the same health benefits. It’s actually not good for you. And honeycomb that has agricultural chemicals stores those chemicals in the wax. That’s why it’s especially important to eat pure honeycomb.
Honey purity is also important because everything comes full circle. Support the beekeepers who help bees produce pure honeycomb—honeycomb not tainted with agricultural chemicals, that’s not blended or heated—and the bees will continue to pollinate so we can have biodiversity and nutritious food.
Eating real honey helps save the bees. Saving the bees is saving humanity.