Setting the world of honey abuzz: Tasmanian Honey Company

When Julian Wolfhagen returned to the world of beekeeping, he had no idea that his Tasmanian Honey Company would one day attract honey lovers from all over the world.

To get a sense of just how Julian Wolfhagen feels about the product he’s been working with for the last four decades, it’s instructive to look at the language he uses.

Julian is the founder of the Tasmanian Honey Company and he describes their famous leatherwood variety as the “distillate of the wilderness”. You don’t hear that sort of poetry from someone who isn’t deeply in love with his craft and its subject.

Born in central Tasmania, Julian was introduced to bees and honey at an early age; his grandfather was a beekeeper. He says beekeeping and the “magic of honey” was a profound influence on his early years.

It wasn’t until well into adulthood, however, and after a corporate career, that he returned to the world he had grown up in.

“The concept of me becoming a beekeeper and producer of honey re-emerged and it has been the course of my life since.”

That was in 1978. At that time the company he created produced and sold honey, but not under its own label. Julian says that by the end of the 1980s he realised that the only way he could control the company’s pricing was to establish his own recognised brand.

“I established the Tasmanian Honey Company as a brand and started to design, and develop packaging, specifically or uniquely around that brand.”

That, he says, allowed the company to “survive and prosper” into a new era. But what has propelled it into a period of extended success is expansion into markets beyond Australia.

Riding on the buzz abroad

Over the last ten years, the Tasmanian Honey Company’s revenue has doubled, and in great part that’s thanks to buyers in Asia.

“About 80 per cent of visitors that walk through our door are from Asia, particularly Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Malaysia and Taiwan,” Julian says.

Yet until recently, the company faced a key obstacle in growing their international market - they had no way of reaching these customers once they returned to their home country.

“We had distributors around the world, but we really wanted our international customers to be able to buy our honey online and for us to deliver it directly to their doorstep.”

Then another Tasmanian small business recommended Australia Post. They had used the postal service to expand internationally and suggested that Tasmanian Honey Company do the same.

“We began working with Australia Post in November 2017 and a whole new world of online sales opened up to us,” Julian says. "We're now using eParcel, International Standard and International Express."

“Australia Post has supplied us information about international customs and regulations in certain countries, sorted out our freight requirements and helped us on-board payment systems, like Alipay and WeChat. It has been a revelation.”

Championing quality honey

Today the business manages more than 1800 bee colonies and produces around 200 tonnes, or half a million jars, of honey per year. Julian has no intention of stopping here.

He intends to continue building his online sales while developing the tourism side of the business, becoming a champion for exceptional honey and for his home state in general.

“I set out as a young person with a dream about what my native island could produce and I’ve been able to take that product, put it in a world market and build a brand that has stood the test of time.”

Julian’s distillate of the wilderness has come a long way. These are his top two insights from that journey.

  • Aim big even if your business is small. The partnership with Australia Post has helped the Tasmanian Honey Company thrive but it’s still a small business at heart. Despite that, Julian has brave ambitions. “The company isn't just a great ambassador for quality honey but also for Tasmania in general. Our presence in the broader world means that many people often have their first experience of Tasmania through our honey.”
  • Let your passion fuel your longevity. It’s difficult to succeed without a long-term commitment to a venture, but business can be difficult, laborious and sometimes simply monotonous. Julian’s example demonstrates the importance of doing something you truly love. “It's honest work that produces one of the most wonderful products. There's a magical quality to it. You get out into the most beautiful parts of Tasmania and once you're in a beehive, you're transported to a world of wonder. That's what keeps me going.”

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