A PEI underdog is taking on big brand vitamins

From the C-Suite newsletter: Honibe's first campaign puts its all-honey products against some of the largest supplements.

Honibe 1

By Will Novosedlik

When is a startup no longer a startup? When it launches its first ad campaign 14 years after it began business.

The standard route for a startup – as defined by Silicon Valley – is to have a hot idea, get some seed money, develop a minimum viable product, obtain even more money, get your MVP to market as fast as you can, promote the hell out of it and hope that it gets enough traction to cross the chasm, drive up the value of the brand and make you and your investors rich.

Prince Edward Island-based Honibe (pronounced ‘honeybee’) did not follow the standard Silicon Valley model. The wellness company’s founders acted more out of a passion for natural health than for untold wealth. The origin story says it all.

Honibe is based in PEI, but its story began in the mountains. While backpacking in Whistler, founder John Rowe and his wife Sue were enjoying the mountain air when a jar of honey they had taken with them broke. John, an engineer and honey lover, had a little eureka moment and thought there must be a way to make honey more portable. So he patented a way to turn liquid honey into solid lozenges and gummies.

Legally, Honibe cannot make health claims about honey, however it is believed to have efficacy as an antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cough suppressant. So Honibe figured out a way to add vitamins and cough suppressant to its product portflio and ended up with a solid differentiator: it is the only throat lozenge and gummy vitamin brand on the market with products made of 99% honey.

Honibe did not get much traction at first. They bootstrapped for five years and then got an opportunity to appear on Dragons’ Den in 2012. Though the founders had successfully cut a deal with one of the judges, the deal fell through, so it was back to bootstrapping. To finance the product and keep the manufacturing operation going, the founders depended on co-manufacturing other brands’ products. For many years co-manufacturing brought in the lion’s share of revenues.

It was a slow burn, pitching and selling the product into both natural food retailers and traditional stores, eventually building a customer base across Canada, in the U.K., and in the U.A.E, of all places. Progress was slow, but they built the business to the point where it was time to spend money on advertising.

Today, Honibe enjoys strong customer retention. According to Eins Mutuc, head of marketing, “Research told us that Honibe consumers are more discerning than the average vitamin supplement consumer. Like our founders, they have an optimistic outlook and always strive to lead a healthy life. And they like our story. We’re an authentic Canadian brand from PEI that’s now sold nationally and reaching global markets.”

That said, the problem is that the brand still lacks broad awareness. So, this week, Honibe will launch its very-first digital campaign via Connected TV and across all of the brand’s owned platforms.

The ads are built around a colourful 3D hexagonal device that frames the product and are tasked with communicating its key benefit: all natural, 99% honey that, in its lozenge form, soothes sore throats and, in its gummy form, delivers a dose of vitamins. Lozenges come in seven varieties and gummies include two adult multivitamins, a melatonin, omega-3, vitamin D3 and an apple cider vinegar supplement.

Aside from its online business, Honibe lozenges can be found in physical stores from pharmacies to natural food retailers, and the OTC sections of grocery stores like Loblaws and Whole Foods. Gummies are mostly in natural channels and in some drugstores (e.g. Rexall). Online channels include Amazon and the Honibe website, where consumers can purchase its products on a subscription basis.

Strategy, creative and production for the campaign was led by Noble Content, which worked with Mary Chambers on strategy, as well as writer and art director team Lyranda Martin Evans and Travis Cowdy on the creative. Upstate handled post-production, Murmur audio worked on sound production, while Cairns O’neill led media with PR support from Branding & Buzzing.