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Automation keeps honey maker ‘buzzing’, after rejecting Dragons' Den investment

22 April 2024

Backed by Made Smarter, Just Bee is set to double growth after investing in automation.

Just Bee Honey, based in Trafford Park, Greater Manchester, makes a variety of flavoured and vitamin-infused honey products which are sold direct-to-consumer.

With the support of Made Smarter, the government-backed technology and skills adoption programme supporting SME manufacturers, Just Bee is investing £41,000 in an automated solution to replace manual processes for sealing and labelling.

This will increase production speed, capacity and quality, and support plans to double revenue over the next two years and create five new jobs. Meanwhile, production operatives currently performing the manual processes will be moved to more high-value, skilled roles.

Launched in 2014 by business partners Andy Sugden and Joe Harper, the son of a beekeeper, Just Bee Honey started life as a mission to make healthy soft drinks using honey, and to help conserve the UK’s bee population.

After famously turning down potential investment from Peter Jones on the BBC TV show Dragons’ Den, Just Bee began selling in Selfridges, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Co-op, WH Smith and Boots.

Sales plummeted during the pandemic prompting the business to pivot to manufacturing vitamin infused and flavoured honey. They now produce nine different products and sales have sky-rocketed to 250,000 units per year.

Andy Sugden, Co-Founder, said: “We have been on quite a journey over the last 10 years from handmade products in a kitchen to a factory. We are now ready for the next stage of our growth. 

“We want to be able to do things faster, more efficiently and to a higher standard, while enabling our team to contribute their skills in other areas of the business. 

“Made Smarter first helped us develop a vision and a digital roadmap of how to get there. This was followed up by a £20,000 grant towards the technology.

“It’s a major step towards our dream of a smart factory, fully automated and digital, and we can’t thank Made Smarter enough for helping us get there.”

The machines being deployed for the sealing, labelling and digital batch coding processes include a Super SealTM 400 induction cap sealer and a Tri-Roller Compact Labelling System.

With limited funds to invest in capital equipment the grant support from Made Smarter has accelerated the project by at least two years.

Replacing manual, low-skilled tasks with automated and digital processes will increase the efficiency of the production process considerably. The investment is forecast to reduce the manufacturing cost per unit by 20 percent.

The investment also supports Just Bee’s net zero ambitions by reducing waste by minimising errors in production processes, which, in turn, reduces the amount of energy consumed.

The business has already taken on a Head of Operations to manage the implementation of new technology and drive the digital transformation and plans to create five new jobs in new product development, supply chain management and marketing.

Commenting on the partnership, Donna Edwards, Director of Made Smarter’s Adoption Programme in the North West, said: “It has been fantastic to have played a supportive role in Just Bee’s digital transformation. 

"Andy, Joe and the team have been eager participants of the programme, willing to engage with our experts to create a digital roadmap and identify the technology and skills they need to succeed.

“We look forward to offering them our ongoing support as they drive forward their growth ambitions.”

Launched in 2019, Made Smarter has engaged with 2,500 manufacturers, with hundreds receiving support through grant funding, impartial technology advice, leadership, and skills training to help transform their businesses.

The programme has delivered 334 technology projects in the North West, which are forecast to create 1,550 jobs, upskill 2,772 existing roles, and increase North West GVA by £242M.

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