Coorg (Kodagu) is a picturesque hill district along the verdant western Ghats Mountains in the state of Karnataka, South India, which is well known for its aromatic coffee, luscious oranges and fragrant spices. This landscape with steep hills, valleys and ravines with countless streams is home to forests of rosewood, teakwood, sandalwood and silver oak. In this setting, one entrepreneur is turning the region’s traditions of beekeeping and honey collecting into a global operation called Nectar Fresh honey.
Honey is an important part of the culture in Coorg, where bees are kept and honey is cultivated throughout the dense forests and on the many coffee plantations. At “A Cookery Year in Coorg,” Shalini Nanda Nagappa writes “at a Coorg child’s naming ceremony, a gold coin is dipped in honey, and touched to the infant’s lips, a symbolic wish and blessing for the child to live a life of sweetness and prosperity.”
Humble beginnings with a dream
In 2007, Chayaa Nanjappa, a young woman from Coorg, decided to leave her job in the hospitality industry to follow her dream of starting her own honey business. Her initial plan was to supply the purest quality honey from her hometown to the local markets in Bangalore.
To learn the ropes of the new business, she trained at the central Bee Research and Training Institute in Pune, Maharashtra. With a small loan from her mother and with the support of Khadi and Village Industries. she started her business Nectar Fresh honey in Bangalore.
Honey is collected directly from the source and filtered. It later undergoes moisture reduction and then again more filtration. It is then cooled and sent to settling tanks. Processed honey is meticulously tested for quality at the in-house laboratory. Initially the honey was processed and packaged for the pharmaceutical, ayurveda, and hospitality sectors. After serving solely as a supplier to other brands, Nectar Fresh began marketing honey and related products under its own label across India in 2007.
Three years later, Nanjappa relocated the flourishing business to Mysore. Kuppanda Rajappa, a well-known businessman of Coorg origin, with considerable experience in management of plantations and retail sector joined the company as partner. Nectar Fresh was initially sourcing honey only from Coorg. Today the company selectively sources raw honey from various honey-rich regions of India. The honey is collected from forests, certified apiaries, tribal societies and small farmers.
Growing Nectar Fresh honey’s export operation
Pure unadulterated Coorg honey is unique in flavor, aroma and color. These qualities vary depending on the nectar source, age and storage conditions of the honey. Honey extracted during different seasons and from various parts of Coorg carries the flavor of seasonal and regional flowers. Color ranges from dark to light amber: Pale honeys have a mild flavor, while the darker ones have more robust flavor.
Honey made primarily from the nectar of one type of flower is called mono-floral. They have high value in the market due to distinctive flavor. Darker honeys are used for large-scale commercial purposes while lighter honeys are marketed for direct consumption and demand a premium price over the darker counterparts. Most of Nectar Fresh honey is organic and the company also specializes in mono-floral honeys, including Coorg honey, eucalyptus honey, acacia honey, clover honey, mustard honey, sunflower honey, jamun honey, lychee honey and forest honey, which is sourced from dense forests where herbal plants known for their medicinal properties grow.
From the new processing plants in Mysore the company started marketing single-portion packs and 30-gram bottles under Nectar Fresh brand for sale in the hospitality industry. Soon Nectar fresh launched retail-portion package of jams and sauces. Nectar Fresh is one of the largest suppliers of bulk honey from south India, and today its products are exported through middlemen to United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and European Union markets. Recently Nectar Fresh met the stringent standards necessary for approval to export honey to Germany.
The company is awaiting the completion of a new processing plant with a much larger capacity, which would enable Nectar Fresh to produce even more honey. Another plant for processing fruit jams and tomato sauces and purées is expected to be operational by June. The company is in the process of introducing Nectar Fresh Coorg coffee. Plans are also in the works for marketing Coorg-grown pepper, cardamom and kokum.
Nanjappa is a member of the National Bee Board of India. From humble beginning of supplying quality honey to the local market, the company has evolved into one of the top five suppliers and exporter of bulk, raw honey as well as processed honey and the only one manufacturing different varieties of mono-floral honey.
Top photo: Nectar Fresh honey. Credit: Chayaa Nanjappa