The sweet taste of a successful partnership
Breaking a jar of liquid honey in his backpack while hiking in the 1990s got John Rowe thinking that honey should really be available in solid form. Since no one had ever invented such a product, he spent the next decade researching and developing the planet's first cube of solid honey that not only was 100% natural, but also retained the look and taste of the raw source used to sweeten tea.
Today, as CEO of Prince Edward Island (PEI)-based Island Abbey Foods, Rowe has taken his innovation worldwide. Under his leadership, the global corporation manufactures hundreds of natural honey products, many of them solids, and ships them to more than 20 countries around the world.
However manufacturing and marketing this newly invented product posed immense challenges and unforeseen hurdles. The first step was proving to Canadian health authorities that Island Abbey's claim of pure solid honey was genuine. It was at this point that Rowe reached out to the National Research Council's (NRC) Natural Health Products program, whose support took various forms, among them advisory services, laboratory analyses and market intelligence.
From the island to the world
The next steps were to ensure that the product complied with the parameters of every target country's health authorities and to secure both product and site licences in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and beyond. This meant starting out on a small scale, then scaling production up to higher levels, as well as inventing equipment and a software platform for processing, forming and packaging the product.
Product formulation and analysis demands rigid "good manufacturing principles" that conform to guidelines required by health agencies and authorities. "Two key challenges that NRC helped us overcome were to validate the claim that our solidification process did not denature or refine honey in any way and to fine-tune our analytical methods for improving quality on an ongoing basis," explains Rowe. "NRC also steered us through navigating international regulatory minefields that ensured we got our product to market in record time."
According to Bob Chapman, Program Lead for NRC's Natural Health Products program, the key to this successful relationship was Island Abbey's acceptance of NRC as an extension of their R&D arm. "Island Abbey Foods knew they did not have the resources to conduct the complex method development of product components to ensure their quality, so they relied on us to provide both expertise and infrastructure," he says. Chapman further points out that clients such as Island Abbey Foods can leverage not only NRC's equipment, but also dedicated technical staff and scientists in many fields of R&D to help deliver solutions that meet their unique goals.
Wholesome remedies for the globe
Rowe explains that, as a stable carrier of flavourings and health ingredients, solid honey lends itself perfectly to natural additives and Island Abbey Food's recent expansion into natural health products and pharmaceuticals such as honey vitamins, supplements and immune-boosters is right on trend. "After several years of research, we introduced the world's first honey lozenge with menthol and eucalyptus," he says. Island Abbey Foods now sells a range of products under its own honibe® brand and manufactures them for partners around the world.
"Our unique platform is the world's first all-natural delivery vehicle for medication of any kind," says Rowe, adding that Island Abbey Foods plans to continue manufacturing these products in PEI and ship them worldwide. Anticipated growth over the next five years will likely see profits soar and employees double from 50 to 100.
Rowe attributes much of Island Abbey's success to its longstanding partnership with NRC. "NRC provides an incredible competitive advantage for Canadian businesses," he adds. "Businesses can collaborate with NRC's world-class researchers without having to build their own R&D capacity in-house." And that just sweetens the pot.