Katrina Klett: Elevating Honey in China

Oct 30, 2017, 06:00 AM

Elevated Honey Co is dedicated to preserving traditional Himalayan beekeeping methods to produce the world’s purest honey.   Katrina Klett moved to China nearly a decade ago to study language, but ended up finding her true calling there as a beekeeper. She’s now turning that vision into a business as a social entrepreneur. Klett is the CEO of Elevated Honey Co, a small honey company in southwest China that is passionate about helping farmers connect to better markets through supply chains. The company works with a rare native Asian honeybee species that produces a smaller amount of honey than bees in the U.S. As such, the honey is rare and priced about eight times higher than honey that comes from bees in other parts of the world. However, the honeybee farmers in China have a hard time cashing in on that profit because they do not have easy access to buyers. Farmers often live in remote mountain areas, where it’s difficult to connect with buyers, Klett said. Happy Farmers, Better Honey According to Klett, Elevated Honey Co has three main goals: Ensure that its beekeepers earn a living wage. Create opportunities for employment in remote areas of China that are not harmful to the environment. Combat the problem of fake and unsafe honey that exists throughout China and the rest of the world. To achieve these goals, the company works with farmers to train them and provide equipment and eventually bring them in line with the its philosophy. Beekeepers can either stick to their traditional methods or transition to more modern processes in line with what’s done in the U.S. “What we find is that our young, innovative guys want to learn new management techniques, but our older gentlemen want to stick with log hives,” Klett says. “We want both to be possible.” While Elevated Honey Co. provides beekeeping best practices, Klett is quick to point out that she does not offer training on how to become an entrepreneur. While she considers herself a social entrepreneur, she does not feel she’s an expert in helping others do the same. Regardless of which beekeeping method a farmer uses, Elevated Honey Co. works to make sure they receive a fair price for the final product. Middlemen take advantage of inexperienced farmers by offering low prices and then cashing in by selling it at a much higher price. Elevated Honey Co. buys honey at higher prices but requires higher standards as a result. The financial motivation is often enough to bring in line those who might have cut corners or skimped on quality when selling to other buyers. “That’s how we bring a lot of these guys into the fold and get them to come along with us on some of our quality control issues,” Klett said. Honey is sold entirely online, mostly through WeChat, a Chinese social media site. The site also serves as a marketing platform for the company. Moving to China Working in China allows Klatt to combine her passion for beekeeping with her passion for language. Her parents are migratory beekeepers who produce honey in North Dakota and breed queen bees in Texas. As she learned more about beekeeping, Klett discovered that China has one of the most diverse bee populations in the world and offers opportunities that are not available in the U.S. “It’s just a really fascinating place to be involved in bees and beekeeping. I wanted to come and understand that,” Klett said. Klett moved to China in 2008 to study language at Beijing Foreign Studies University. While there, she began interning in a honeybee research lab and learned the ins and outs of Chinese beekeeping. She also learned about a research project in need of a beekeeping technician. A residential area was converted to a national park in the 1980s, which was making it difficult for residents there to prosper economically. The park’s leaders thought beekeeping might be a way to boost the area’s economy without damaging the environment. They were looking for someone to help get a beekeeping program off the gr...