The first subscription box we shipped in August 2013 included 10 ounces of TruBee Honey's wildflower honey. Since then we've sold thousands of jars of this bestselling nectar. We interviewed Laura Kimball to find out what she was doing before starting TruBee, the health benefits of honey, and what she thinks about the idea of a honey sommelier (hint: not a fan), and more.
What were you doing before you started TruBee?
I was a newspaper copy editor for Gannett, which publishes several papers here in Tennessee, and Jeff Otto, my husband, is a professional photographer.
What led you to start your business?
It was gradual. We started out tinkering with honeybees in our back yard after I wrote an article about a beekeeper. After a while, we had a honey surplus, so we started selling honey at the Franklin Farmers Market in 2011. We quickly learned that there is an insatiable appetite for raw honey, so we decided to give TruBee Honey a full-time effort and wholesale it to retailers. (Our first Nashville customer was The Produce Place on Murphy Road.)
Operating TruBee Honey also gives me the freedom to be available when our daughter gets home from school, which I could never do when I was working nights and weekends at newspapers.
Can you tell where a honey is from by its taste?
In some cases, yes. For example, orange blossom honey almost always comes from Florida, and manuka honey comes from New Zealand and Australia.
Wildflower honeys are harder to pin down, since they have so many different kinds of nectar in them. Our Wildflower Summer honey is predominantly clover nectar, while our Tennessee Spring vintage has a floral taste because bees are making it from the nectar of spring-blooming plants. It's everything from apple and blueberry blossoms to the tiny white flowers on holly bushes and the sought-after black locust bloom.
Speaking of, black locust trees are indigenous to Tennessee and bloom for only about a week to 10 days. They have these pendulous, white blossoms that kind of look like grapes, and every year we get excited about it. It's a tricky bloom to "catch" though, because spring weather here is so unpredictable; if it decides to bloom during a week of rain, forget it! (Keep your eyes peeled ... the 2017 bloom is about to happen. Look along the sides of highways, against the tree line.)
Is there such a thing as a honey sommelier?
If there is, I bet he or she is an a--hole. In our culture of food experts and micro-everything, there probably are folks out there who are honey tasting experts, but I'm not one of them. My mom buys us raw honey from all the places she travels, and it's fun to think about how they reflect the "terroir" of the region in which they were made, which is a lot like tasting wine.
What are the benefits of local honey?
Honey in general is beneficial in that it is a natural sugar substitute. Also, we have many customers who eat our raw honey because they want to eat local pollens. While I'm not a medical expert, the theory is that if you eat the pollens you are allergic to in small doses, it may reduce your allergies to those pollens. We have customers that swear by this remedy, and we even have a family that buys our honey every year before making a trip from New Jersey to Nashville.
Besides honey, what else do you make?
We also offer two beeswax products, our all-natural beeswax lip balm, and our Beeswax Rub. I started making the lip balm because I've always been a lip balm addict. The consistency of the lip balm brand I had always bought seemed to change, so I figured how hard could it be to make something better?
The Beeswax Rub is a moisturizer, but we've found that it's also being used for things like tattoo aftercare, beard wax, and even to condition leather goods and wood chopping blocks. We have a customer in North Carolina whose son is a guide in Alaska; she sends him several tins each year, and he uses it to protect his face from the cold, dry air.
What locally-made products do you use?
There are so many! In our fridge we have Noble Springs chevre (which is delicious drizzled with our Tennessee Spring honey vintage) and Hatcher Family Dairy milk. In our bathroom we have Ma Bella goat milk soaps and Little Seed Farm deodorant cream, and in our pantry we have Walker's Bloody Mary Mix, Eli Mason syrups and a couple of bottles from Corsair. (We used to have some Prohibition Popcorn and Soberdough bread mixes, but they always disappear.) And don't forget Jackalope ... we have been known to trade honey for beer.
What is one of your favorite gifts to give?
Anything made by Anderson Design Company. At Christmas time, we gave several of their National Parks 100th anniversary coloring books. This is one of those one-size-fits-all gifts, especially given the popularity of "adult" coloring books. Our daughter loves it, and my 80-year-old second cousin loves it because she's been to many of the places, but can't travel now. Also, their poster-size prints or postcards (of anything from Nashville landmarks to exotic foreign cities) are affordable and thoughtful gifts.
What would you be doing if you weren’t making honey?
We don't "make" the honey, but if we weren't robbing bees of their honey, we'd be bodysurfing the waves of the Carolinas. Or planning our next business ... once you start thinking like an entrepreneur or marketer, it's really hard to turn it off.