Name: Deborah Coe
Business: Great Tilkey Honey
Role: Business Partner
“Social media has really opened the door for us as a small businesses – it has allowed us to connect with customers and share our story in a very powerful way.”
Deborah and Michael Coe are the founders of Great Tilkey Honey – producers of homemade, 100% natural Essex and Suffolk honey.
Deborah’s husband Michael began bee-keeping as a hobby, selling from a stall outside his house with just one hive in his garden. In 2012, having started a relationship with the East of England Co-op through the Sourced Locally Scheme, he left his job as a carpenter and took up bee keeping full-time, while Deborah provided financial support through her full-time employment in the financial sector. They now have a bespoke extraction unit, six apiaries (groups of beehives) across Essex and Suffolk and a strong customer following. Their honey is sold in nearly all of the Co-op stores in Essex and Suffolk, and they sell direct to the public and to local outlets such as National Trust sites and garden centres.
Deborah works full-time in the financial industry, so devotes a great deal of evening and weekend time to the family business. She manages accounts and tax returns, as well as labelling and packing jars, and running the company’s social media channels. Establishing the business was a learning curve for them both, as Deborah explains:
“Starting the business was like a whole new world for us. We had to learn everything from scratch, even how to create barcodes, but together we’ve made it work. I’ve never found my gender to have been a barrier within the food industry. If anything, I brought a great deal to the partnership with my background in the corporate world, which Michael had never been a part of. A small business relies on a breadth of experience. It is about using your skills and taking the time to learn where you lack expertise.”
Deborah and Michael share their passion for the welfare of bees with their customers and look to educate consumers on how honey is made, its health benefits and the importance of bee preservation. They take their special ‘observation hive’ to talks at schools and shows and use social media to encourage an understanding of the importance of bees in the wider production of food.
Deborah says “Someone once said to us after trying our honey that “You must have such happy bees” and I hope they are right. Bee-keeping is a way of life for us, not a way to make money, and we hope we can inspire other people to help us protect the species which is so important to us.
“Social media has really opened the door for us as a small businesses – it has allowed us to connect with customers and share our story in a very powerful way, so we can regularly share information and updates on our bees and their welfare.”
Great Tilkey Honey was voted as the Co-op’s Local Producer of the Year for 2017, which has led to increased sales and public attention. Whilst Deborah is keen for the business to grow and to continue to be a sustainable family enterprise, she is keen to keep their local identity and commitment to quality.
She explains, “Every part of our production process is carried out by the family. From extraction to filtering, to jar filling and labelling, everything is done by hand at home. There is nothing added to our honey which makes it so healthy and this is what we are so proud of. Every time we see our happy bees pollenating in the fields and every time we fill a pot of honey, we get that sense of pride and satisfaction which is so unique and special to local produce.
“In a world with so much mass production, the ‘back to basics’ nature of local production is very special and something that customers really want. Large businesses such as the Co-op help significantly by championing local produce, and we would not be where we are today without them. They have been so supportive every step of the way and have given us so much exposure, we are extremely grateful.”
For further information on Great Tilkey Honey follow them on Facebook and Twitter.