Entrepreneur Makes, Markets Honey-Flavored Water

  • Blume Honey Water is available at coffee shops and grocery chains across Pennsylvania, the Washington, D.C. metro area, and Colorado. (Rebecca Droke/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

  • Michele Burchfield, co-founder and CEO of Blume Honey Water, at the Burgh Bees community apiary in Homewood, Pa. (Rebecca Droke/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographs — Rebecca Droke

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published: 8/5/2017 11:35:03 PM
Modified: 8/5/2017 11:35:03 PM

Pittsburgh — Michele Burchfield describes herself as a “horrible water drinker” who used to be able to ride her bike 50 miles without stopping to take a sip. Now she doesn’t leave home for a ride without at least four bottles of the drink she created.

And she’s not the only one chugging her concoction — Blume Honey Water is available at coffee shops and grocery chains across Pennsylvania, the Washington, D.C., metro area, and Colorado.

The suburban Pittsburgh resident first heard about the health properties of honey from a wrestling coach at her son’s boarding school, who gave infused water to his athletes to keep them energized while cutting weight.

“Honey and water have been combined since the first Olympiad for hydration and energy,” Burchfield said. “Honey is made of glucose and fructose and other components, giving us this beautiful spikeless energy.”

A veteran of the craft beer side of the beverage business, she was eager to turn the idea into a product but envisioned something more sophisticated than an energy drink.

So she called a former classmate, Carla Frank, who now lives in Manhattan. After attending high school and Penn State University together, the two embarked on different paths — over the course of a career in publishing, Frank has worked for magazines including Cooking Light and Glamour Italy — but they remained friends.

And now, they are business partners. They formed a limited liability company in 2015 — eventually becoming a women-owned company as certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council — and began sampling hundreds of varieties of honey, traveling between Pittsburgh and New York for tastings.

By June 2016, they were ready to launch with three flavors: vanilla citrus, wild blueberry and ginger zest.

Blume Honey Water launched in Pittsburgh that month. It hit the D.C. and surrounding metro areas of Maryland and Virginia in November 2016 and arrived in Colorado in February. The company determined its initial markets by cross-referencing the top 10 affluent millennial markets with the top 10 healthy markets.

“Our target consumer is female, between the ages of 18 and 54 with a healthy lifestyle who is fashionable, loves the outdoors (and) concerned about our environment and social issues,” Burchfield said. “But we found we also have a halo of men with the same beliefs that also love the waters.”

Honey offers health benefits, according to Ron Fessenden, a Colorado Springs-based doctor who has written four books on the subject. He consulted with Burchfield and Frank during the early stages of Blume Honey Water.

Fessenden said honey is a sugar that can regulate blood sugar. It also stores sugar in the liver rather than allowing it to enter the bloodstream, reducing metabolic stress and lowering risks of diseases from cancers to heart disease.

Getting the water into stores required lots of sampling, both at local coffee shops and neighborhood events, Burchfield said. Gradually, the product made its way into the three Whole Foods locations in Pittsburgh, Giant Eagle Market District stores and another 14 Whole Foods in the D.C. metro area. It is also available at the airports in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Blume Honey Water now has approval for all 54 Whole Foods locations in the mid-Atlantic region and will be available in nearly 100 more Giant Eagle stores over the next few weeks.

The company — which employs five people and hopes to hire three more — continues to make its presence known locally by sampling at events. Burchfield said the team’s goal is to sample between 750 and 1,000 people a week.

The company uses a proprietary blend of three True Source certified, bee-friendly honeys with the help of area honey supplier Dutch Gold. The product is packaged and assembled in the area, and 10-ounce bottles are priced between $2.49 and $3.25.

Next year, the company hopes to expand — adding new flavors, making the bottles bigger and working on a bag-in-a-box model with a spout to cut waste. They are also experimenting with ideas like carbonation and frozen pops made with honey water.

Blume Honey Water — which gets its name from a twist on the spelling of the word “bloom” suggested by a friend of the duo — cannot yet afford to support charities financially. But Burchfield and Frank prioritize community service, especially in the form of supporting beekeepers and educating the public about the importance of “our little pollinators.”

The company offers its support to a community apiary, handing out bottles of water a couple times a month to the amateur beekeepers there. It also launched a #BeeKindInitiative this summer, teaching people how to make their backyards bee-friendly.

Flavored water is a challenging industry — drinks like coconut water and value-added waters are all competing for the same stomach, as Burchfield put it. She said research shows a $35 billion market at play for small brands like Blume Honey Water.

A 2016 study by Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD group found that while U.S. consumers are drinking fewer purchased beverages than a decade ago, there are still about 1,100 “beverage occasions” per person each year, which equates to about three non-tap water drinks a day. Beverage Industry magazine reported in 2013 that non-alcohol U.S. beverage launches that contained honey increased 49 percent from 2011 to 2012.

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