When you learn that the annual UK lip balm market is worth £60 million* pounds or that in the USA it’s worth around seven times that at over $400 million*, you realise why those brands leading the way in terms of sales are licking their balm-coated lips.

We spoke to Julie Macken, ‘Deputy Queen Bee’ at Oxfordshire-based (UK) Neve’s Bees,  to find out why she’s buzzing about her brand and its products…

Where did the inspiration for the business come from?

“When we were looking to buy a house in the area in 2012, our then 9-year old daughter, Neve, spotted a tower of honey jars in one house and asked the owner why he had so many.

He replied that he was a beekeeper and sold the honey for £5 per jar. Neve went blissfully quiet whilst clearly calculating the money to be made from this tower of honey jars. Later that evening, she announced that we should buy ‘that house with the honey’ and we should get bees, ‘And I’ve already spoken with Grandad Jim and he’s going to buy me a beehive for my 10th Birthday!’ So they really are Neve’s Bees!”

What’s your background?

I started life as a Chemist then got a job on the university ‘Milk Round’ with Unilever’s Management Development Scheme, where I worked as a Healthcare Marketer, later moving to GSK.

I completed an MBA in 2003 and moved to agency work, working with many different companies, from pharmaceutical through white goods. It was whilst delivering a workshop for McCain in Sao Paulo for the heads of marketing in each of their Latin American countries that I had a bit of a ‘what am I doing?’ moment – the objective of the session was to support each marketing head to devise a strategy to convince Latin American mothers to use McCain chips rather than fresh potatoes. There must surely be a better way to use my skills and energy..!”

Tell us about Neve’s Bees’ products?

“We make a range of 100% natural balms using our beeswax, and that of other Oxfordshire beekeepers, blended with natural plant oils and butters and fragranced using only pure essential oils.

One of our friends coined this as ‘from Bee to Balm’! Our ‘favoured drone’ (aka Ross) is also a Global Ops Director and took a sabbatical last year to help us set up a small production facility by converting a part of our house.

We store the products here and ship them out to local shops – such as Blenheim Palace Gift Shop, The Ashmolean, the Birmingham Botanic Museum, sell through our website, Amazon and a few other online retailers, and we also sell at craft markets and fairs – we recently had two stores at Blenheim’s CountryFile Live Event which made for a busy weekend!

We use non-plastic tins and our gift packs are made from recycled card. All our products are designed to look, feel and smell at least as good as the less natural alternatives and with their bright, joyful packaging and fresh scents, they have been created to reflect the beautiful wildflowers all around us.

Our current range includes lip balms in nine lush flavours, Hand Salve for smooth, supply hands, Lemon and Orange Cuticle Cream and our range for dogs – Paw Balm, to help soothe cracked, dry paws and Snout Salve, to soothe sore, dry skin around the snout or on a dog’s body. We also have a range of gift packs available.”

Why are bees so important?

“It is estimated that one third of the food that we consume each day relies on pollination, mainly by bees, but also by other insects, birds and bats. Globally, there are more honey bees than other types of bee and pollinating insects, so it is the world’s most important pollinator of food crops. Sadly, many wild colonies of honeybees have died out due to lack of suitable habitat. Creating more bee friendly habitats and keeping healthy bees can help ensure our pollinators survive and flourish.” 

Tell us about your commitment to the environmental? 

“On the direct level, we do not use plastic packaging – our tins can be recycled along with normal recycling and our board boxes can also be recycled.

Some of our raw materials do have air miles associated with them, but we do try to buy ingredients from as close to home as possible. Our beeswax is from Oxfordshire and our Lavender Essential Oil is from Broadway in the Cotswolds.

We use local agencies wherever we can – our Designer Bee is based in Abingdon, our Social Bee from Kidlington, our Worker Bee from Eynsham, our Copy Bee from Woodstock and our IT Bee from Oxford.”

Why do you think big brands have been so slow to respond to things? 

“In my experience, it’s often simply due to inertia – it takes so long to change the processes in some big companies, whereas in a small company we can be so much more agile.

For example, we were sending out our internet orders in plastic mailing bags when we first started – they were cheap and easy to buy and kept the products safe in transit. However, we never really liked them… and after receiving a couple of absolutely legitimate comments from customers, we realised we needed to change them.

Within a week, we’d sourced new paper mailing bags, trialed two different options (one didn’t work – our lip balms fell out in transit!) and opted for the slightly more expensive, thicker mailer. We worked through the small quantity of plastic mailers we had remaining and now ship all our internet orders in the more expensive (but so much better!) thick paper mailers.”

You can find us on Facebook by searching for Plastic Free Home or at http://www.facebook.com/plasticfreehomeuk.

* Source: Statista

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