Editor’s note: This is part of a series of weekly articles interviewing successful Lebanese entrepreneurs.
BEIRUT: The increased number of illnesses over the past few years raised awareness about the importance of using natural remedies to boost the immune system and help the body to better fight diseases. Raw honey is one of the healthiest and most natural food supplements used by people all around the world to boost their immunity and help treat a wide range of health issues.
But while all honey is natural because it is derived from the nectar of flowers, not all honey is raw or pure. This is because honey is often heated and processed for pasteurization in a bid to prolong its shelf life.
But Marc Antoine Bou Nassif, owner of L’Atelier Du Miel, makes sure to let his customers benefit the most from his products by extracting different kinds of pure and raw honey only. “Our honey is 100 percent pure, we do not heat it, and we have a wide range of products that help in boosting the immunity system against different diseases,” he said.
He explained that honey is not a medication that treats diseases but, if 100 percent pure, it helps in boosting the immune system.
Bou Nassif, who is originally an architect, started extracting honey five years ago but he launched his brand only three years ago in partnership with his brother and one of his friends. “We had an urge to reconnect with nature and we could not find a better and healthier way than beekeeping,” he said.
“The more we researched beekeeping the more we fell in love with it. This is how we bought our first beehives and it was a great experience.”
Lebanon today produces nearly 3,676 tons of honey in a sector that boasts nearly 6,000 beekeepers responsible for some 228,000 beehives, with each hive containing around 50,000 bees.
But unfortunately, not all beekeepers in Lebanon have enough knowledge to adopt proper practices in beekeeping.
“Some beekeepers tend to use pesticides excessively and in a chaotic way, which leads to killing the plant that feeds the bees,” he said. “At ADM, we never use pesticides or antibiotics but only natural products that are more expensive and that do not leave any trace,” he added.
Bou Nassif also noted that L’Atelier Du Miel did not replicate the same practices that are already adopted by beekeepers in Lebanon. “We did a lot of research and we found out that in Lebanon we can move our beehives all year long to follow the flower blossom and this is what we have been doing,” he said. “We created a bee path all over Lebanon and started moving our beehives all year long to produce 20 kinds of honey.”
Bou Nassif explained that other beekeepers move their beehives only once. “This is not enough,” he said. “When you do it throughout the year you allow the bees to feed on natural resources all year long while extracting different kinds of honey with different benefits.”
Bou Nassif said that ADM has beehives in many locations in Lebanon including Beirut.
He explained that beehives can be placed in the city because bees are not dangerous. “In France and in countries where you have intense agriculture and lands are heavily exploited, the honey produced in the city is richer than the one produced in rural areas,” he said. “We produce very tasty honey in Beirut.”
ADM produces around 15 tons of honey per year. Bou Nassif and his partners invested around $100,000 at first to purchase the beehives and create the brand and the first point of sale. “We got a subsidized loan from Kafalat as an initial investment but then we decided to grow and expand further in production and sales and this is when we got IM Capital and Diane Foundation in addition to Berytech’s Chairman Maroun Chammas to invest with us,” he said.
IM Capital provides matching capital, equity guarantee, as well as support programs to a broad range of qualified early businesses and investors. IM Capital is funded by USAID under the Middle East and North Africa Investment Initiative, aiming to improve access to finance and revenue growth for startups.
Bou Nassif said that financing was a bit challenging at first yet it was not exactly time consuming. “We faced a few challenges at first but it did not take much time to finance our project since the idea is attractive,” he said.
He added that ADM did not start making profits yet because it is heavily investing in expansion. “We did not make profits yet but we succeeded in terms of visibility and branding,” he said. “We are expecting to start making profits in 2017.”
ADM currently employs 15 to 20 people and its products are showcased in TSC signature, ABC Dbayeh and Lebanon’s duty free, and it is planning to soon open its boutique in Verdun and a main kitchen in Mar Mikhael. “Our Mar Mikhael kitchen will only be serving tea and desserts made of pure honey,” he said.
ADM exports only in small quantities to Jordan for the time being based on special orders. “We count mostly on local consumption but in the future we are planning to export this model to GCC by franchising or partnering with people there,” he concluded.