Buzz Builds Around Food Traceability: Nectar Wires The Hive

The planet’s pollinator problem doesn’t need much of an explanation. But a company looking to disrupt the bee business has got me thinking about the many ways tech trends -- even those aimed at agribusiness -- are both shaping and responding to a changing consumer world.

Nectar is a small start-up based in Montreal. The embarrassing truth is that I bumbled my way onto its site while mattress shopping last week. Looking for Nectar-the-bedding company, I learned that Nectar, the tech bee-tracking start-up, just got about $835,000 in seed funding.

It develops and installs sensors for commercial beekeepers, a target market that is desperate to save their hives. And while the number of backyard hobbyists is growing fast, for now it is aiming at larger agribusinesses with several hundred hives or more. (The world's largest beekeepers have up to 100,000 hives.)"

Since 2006, some 30% of the world’s bee colonies have collapsed, posing enormous threats to agriculture. The United Nations says that a third of all food production relies on crops pollinated by bees. And by some estimates, about 40% of invertebrate pollinator species, particularly bees, are facing extinction.



Enter Nectar. “Beekeepers are struggling, and they are more open to new solutions — even those that are not so tech-savvy,” says Maximilian Cherney, who leads the company’s commercial operations, “Beekeepers have been doing this the same way for generations. Younger clients are more ready to adopt tech solutions, because they’re looking at how they can stay in business for the next 30 or 40 years.”

Nectar’s technology puts a sensor in beehives. And while the business idea might be disruptive in a good way, its research has shown that the bees, which can be exquisitely sensitive to disturbances, don’t seem to mind. The sensors, called Beecons, turn on every 15 minutes. They then transmit data about the health of the hive via Bluetooth to a portal called the BeeHub. Beekeepers can know everything from whether the number of bees is increasing or decreasing to the presence of a queen -- without any negative effect. With the tagline of “Give your bees a voice,” it then uploads data to servers,  allowing beekeepers to optimize workflow and know exactly what their bees are up to, 24/7.

Not only does Nectar present data beekeepers can use to manage their hives, but it’s less disruptive than the standard approach of prying colonies open to inspect manually. “We know it takes a hive up to one to three days to recover from that,” Cherney tells D2C FYI.

The company’s primary target is commercial beekeepers. In the U.S., honey is a $4.4 billion business. Buy he says Nectar is well aware of the intense fascination of hundreds of thousands of hobbyists (including the company’s founder) and the strong curiosity of consumers in general.

And between growing interest in blockchain technology, sustainable agriculture and food sources, even people who would never go near a beehive want to know more.
“There’s this multifaceted consumer awareness and interest in food traceability,” Cherney tells D2C FYI. “People want to know where their food comes from. They want to know about pesticides and chemicals. They want to know their food is grown in a way that is making the planet healthier and happier.”

So while the company’s current focus is agribusiness, he says the Nectar team is acutely aware that “more and more, consumers want to know where their honey comes from, and what practices are used to collect it.” Food traceability, he says, is a topic growing in importance. So while right now it is focused on improving operations, “there’s no question going forward that traceability is going to be more and more a part of the conversation. We’ll be able to provide that data to retailers.”

It’s also keeping a close eye on hobbyists, who are spending their discretionary income on hives and “clamoring for all things data about their bees, and educating people around them.”

Cherney, who has worked on a farm and has a keen interest in food systems, says it’s all about healthier bees. “We don’t think of ourselves as selling devices or data, but outcomes, which is healthier bees. If you listen to the bees, they will tell you what they need.”

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