Rob McConnachie and Hannah Dobbie have been in the honey business for the past 15 years but their new brand, 1839, has effectively been 180 years in the making. Inspired by Mary Bumby, a pioneering Victorian lady who first brought honeybees to New Zealand, the couple decided to acknowledge the untold history of Mānuka honey by citing the date of Ms. Bumby’s arrival in the brand name.
“Mary Bumby’s story aligns with female empowerment and the company’s egalitarian approach. 1839 was the history and origins of the New Zealand honey industry. The coming together of the European honey bees and the Mānuka bush has created the best honey in the world," said Hannah Dobbie, 1839 general manager of creative direction.
The duo's own honey journey started from humble beginnings, with their first two drums of honey driven on the back of Rob’s Ute to their first factory, an old shed, next door to their local Matakana pub. Their current operation is quite a different affair, a purpose-built, state-of-the-art factory in Tauranga that houses and processes over 200 tonnes of honey.
McConnachie comes from a managerial background working for major FMCG companies such as Cussons and Heinz Watties while Dobbie's prior hospitality expertise was developed working for the family business. Both are passionate about honey and plan to shake the Mānuka bush by bringing new thinking and innovation to the industry.
"We don’t want to be the country’s biggest honey company, we want to build an innovative company that’s profitable and looks after it’s people," said McConnachie, 1839 CEO and founder.
The pair have already begun to deliver on their innovation goal by being the first New Zealand honey company to feature trust codes on its products, so consumers can track the origin and authenticity of each jar. They launched the honey pouch, another NZ first and a clever solution to the problem of getting that elusive last drop of honey. 1839 honey is also produced using a proprietary method developed by the company, its ‘triple-churned’ which gives the honey a unique silky-smooth texture.
A focus on staff is important for the owners and they want the business to retain a family feel to as they grow. The launch of their new brand 1839 is underway with an exclusive Foodstuffs deal seeing a range of their products being sold in New World, Pak’nSave and selected Four Squares across the country. There are also plans to break into overseas markets which is supported by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. 1839 has been recognised as an NZTE F700 company and is receiving funding assistance to develop the Chinese market.
1839 has recently received international recognition, scooping two awards at the inaugural 2019 London Honey Awards, a gold for Quality and silver for Design.
“We’re delighted at the recognition 1839 has received so far” but it’s back to business as usual for the hard-working, hands-on pair. It's not unusual for me to be downstairs on the forklift or putting lids on jars and if anything needs fixing Hannah knows the factory back to front and it’s machinery inside out," said McConnachie.