Despite being newcomers to the world of premium mixers, Staffordshire based Buzbee’s – whose tonics are sweetened with honey – have managed to create quite the hype around their products.
Buzbee’s was created in the summer of 2018, but due to issues with CO2 supply and demand during that year’s World Cup, CEO Mark Busby was forced to delay taking the product to market until 2019 – a blessing in disguise that gave him an opportunity to really explore the world of sustainability, and hone his trade. And since we’re concurrently celebrating Dry January and Ginuary – we decided it was the perfect time to speak to Mark about the company’s journey and how you can use Buzbee’s tonics.
Buzbee’s want to promote the importance and wellbeing of the bee.
“When starting the company and coming up against the big players, doing something different was the only way forward. Bees are endangered – and that’s why I chose to go with honey. I’d read an article about the bees and been introduced to a gentleman who owns [bee] hives. Speaking to him and learning more about bees, I knew there was something good about this and something I could do to raise the profile of the bee. After doing my homework on sustainability and the environment, I decided to utilise my name as Busby and promote the bee as a species and it’s wellbeing. That’s how we were born really.”
And this unique business mission secured them a partnership with Lord Sugar.
“Lord Sugar liked our sustainability goals, and ethos surrounding the bee because it makes us different to other tonic companies. Lord Sugar is a phenomenal guy – when I went down to meet him for the first time we had a great conversation mapping out where I wanted to go, how we’re going to do it and what involvement he’ll have with us. He wanted to get to know me, and me him. It’s a partnership. The beauty of the relationship is he lets me do my thing, we have a call or a meeting once a month and the team are there when you need them, but they give you freedom.”
They also have a close working relationship with the awareness group Bee1.
“We work closely with Bee1, promoting wellbeing and helping sustain the bee population in the UK. Bee1 play a huge role in highlighting the impact of bees on our ecosystem and environment. In a presentation for a supermarket chain, we showed them a typical fruit aisle, and what it looks like with [input from] bees compared to without bees. It’s impressive to see how much bees contribute to what we eat on a day to day basis and it really opened their eyes. Naturally, we want to sell drinks but if we can work with people and deliver this message then I believe we’ve achieved something.”
The production process is surprisingly quick – around one month.
“The production process involves sourcing all-natural ingredients – and the honey. We use natural spring water that comes from Wales or the Cotswolds, and make sure our sources are ethical. We have some warming cabinets for decrystallizing, which takes 24-48 hours. It’s the biggest process – especially at this time of year due to the cold. Making sure the honey is right is vital, we need to be sure it doesn’t overpower the drink and that it’s been filtered correctly. The flavours are mainly down to my personal favourites. I’d been trying to make a Parma Violet flavour but couldn’t get it to work, so I had a Pantone colour and still needed another flavour… I love passionfruit, so I thought you know what, passion fruit skin is purple – it makes sense, we’ll go for it.”
And now Passionfruit is one of their best sellers.
“It’s a bit different, I’m not aware of anyone else who makes a passionfruit tonic – the things you don’t expect turn out to be the most popular. Some people mix it with a bit of orange juice and vodka, some people like to mix it with gin. A couple of the places, they’ve called it the ‘Bees’ Knees’ – gin, passionfruit and a bit of orange juice.”
Buzbees make sure they’re always giving back to the bee population and the environment.
“Our suppliers don’t take all the honey from the hive; we always make sure there’s more than enough honey left for the bees. It’s important that there’s a specific amount there for the winter period. So we use the honey they produce, then we give back by putting into the hives. As we grow, the number of hives will grow. We’ve also reduced our plastic down to the minimal amount – we use paper, cardboard, glass and metal caps. We’re working with a company at the moment to have a trace system, and remove and reduce our use of plastic to almost nothing.”
Exciting things are coming in 2020.
“We have some new flavours for 2020 – we’ve got a summer one coming in March and it’s off the charts, I’m not kidding you, we’ve nailed it. It’s a good feeling when you get the drink perfect. I’ll give you a clue, this new flavour is a perfect one for Wimbledon. I’ve also got a special flavour for Christmas 2020, which will have some spices to create warmth. It’s different but I think it’s a winner, I’m confident it’ll have an impact. We’ll also continue our objectives to raise the profile of the bee, build more hives, work more with Bee1 and develop and grow as a business. We want to encourage others to play a part in sustainability and removing plastic from the environment.”
They have some great ideas for both Dry January and Ginuary.
“I’ve always said that any recipes you see within bars and clubs, just drop the gin if you’re going sober! Use all the mixers with the fruit juices and syrups, or just enjoy them on their own. Last year we did the ‘Designated Driver’ campaign, which encouraged people to just drink our tonics. Use Ginuary and Dry January to experiment with drinks and mix flavours. If you want to mimic alcoholic drinks, then you’ve also got non-alcoholic gins. My perfect idea of a gin and tonic? It’s difficult I try so many recipes, it’s difficult to pick out one but if you force my hand, I love London Dry (gin) with a pink grapefruit tonic.”
Gin is tonic’s traditional partner, but the future holds so much more…
“Experimentation is key. A couple who own a pub mix our tonics with fruit wines and it’s doing remarkably well. They launched a Christmas pack containing our tonics, a small bottle [of fruit wine] and some garnish, supplied it to garden centres and fairs, and it’s just flown off the shelves.
We work with a few mixologists and they create some fantastic drinks, not necessarily with gin. After talking with the guys at the craft gin club, their membership is increasing month on month and continues to grow – which suggests the market is still buoyant for gin, but I do think that we’re gonna see that market stabilise and I think the tail end of next year you’ll see rums come through.”
Erudus helps them to communicate Buzbee’s data.
“As suppliers, it is normal to fill out new line forms when gaining listings with customers. When we were approached by Castel Howell about uploading Buzbee’s Premium Tonics to Erudus, we reached out to the support team who took us step-by-step through the process – this was a great help in understanding the benefits of Erudus and how to get the most out of the system. Uploading new information is simple and the site is easy to navigate around. The added benefit of so many wholesalers using the same platform means we only need to do changes once”.
Find out more about Buzbees and their mission here https://www.buzbeesbeverages.com/