Billy Bee brand facing petition over Canadian honey content

Some Canadian beekeepers are taking aiming at the owner of Canada's biggest honey brands over its use of imported honey in its products, saying the decision is shutting out locally-produced honey producers.

Company disputes claims, says it sources majority of honey from Canada

Honey producers in Canada say they have a glut of product while Canadian companies are getting their product from abroad. (Andy Duback/The Associated Press)

Some Canadian beekeepers are taking aim at the owner of Canada's biggest honey brands over its use of imported honey in its products, saying the decision is shutting out local honey producers.

Billy Bee brand in sticky situation

6 years ago
Duration 1:02
Honey processor faces petition over Canadian content, says it sources majority of honey from Canada

Manitoba beekeeper Allan Campbell began the petition on demanding that McCormick Canada, the parent company of the Billy Bee and Natural Honey Farms honey brands, buy locally-produced honey first.

The petition claims the company "has all but stopped buying Canadian honey" in favour of cheaper honey from other countries.

'Canada No. 1' on bottle refers to grade, not origin

Peter Vichos, a third-generation beekeeper from Kemptville, Ont., told CBC's All in a Day host Alan Neal the petition articulates what many beekeepers have believed for years — that they are being passed over in favour of honey producers from other countries who are selling the product at reduced prices.

"It's surprising how many people are taken by surprise that this is happening," said Vichos.

While bottles of honey may say Canada No. 1 on the front, it refers to a quality grade and not to a country of origin, he says, something he says has confused consumers. 

McCormack Canada says the majority of its honey comes from Canadian sources, and that only "a small amount" of its honey in Billy Bee products comes from Argentina. (McCormack Canada)
Vichos says while he has never sold to McCormack, the companies he sells to compete for space on the shelf with their brands, and that as a result many beekeepers in Canada are not getting fair prices for their product.

The petition — which so far has gathered more than 68,000 signatures — taps into the same patriotic consumer instincts that helped spearhead a campaign to get Loblaws to restock French's ketchup, a product that gained fame for continuing to use Ontario-grown tomatoes.

The Billy Bee Facebook page has also been flooded with comments from people demanding the company use more locally-grown honey.

85% of Billy Bee honey sourced from Canada, company says

In a statement, McCormick Canada vice president of marketing Andrew Faust said the petition, and its claims, are misguided.

"We are disappointed with the tone of the petition overall, but particularly the allegation that we've stopped buying Canadian honey," said Faust in the statement.

"We continue to source the majority of our honey from Canadian beekeepers. Currently, at least 85% of the honey we use is sourced from Canada. In addition, we believe we are the largest buyer of Canadian honey, and growing every year."

Faust acknowledged they blend Billy Bee honey with "a small portion of Argentinian honey to ensure consistent flavour year over year" and said the Billy Bee Pure Certified Organic Honey is sourced from Brazil because of a lack of certified organic honey in Canada.

But he maintains 85 per cent of their honey is sourced from Canada.

Vichos says he has doubts about that claim, based on his conversations with other beekeepers.

"I know friends right now that have operations out west that don't know where they are going to get money to be able to run their business for the upcoming season. Their warehouses are full of product and they have not moved it," he says.