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A honey of a deal led Sue Bee to Bladen County

By Erin Smith

A farmers cooperative was searching for a place to locate a honey processing plant. A shell building in the Elizabethtown Industrial Park offered 400,000 square feet with no flooring installed.

“They basically found a blank canvass,” said Bladen County Economic Development Director Chuck Heustess.

At the time, the plant was located in Waycross, Georgia, but the facility needed a lot of work. The building in the Elizabethtown Industrial Park provided both the space needed as well as the ability to expand and grow in the future. Heustess said the current building can be expanded to add an additional 120,000 square feet.

The Bladen County Committee of 100 constructed the shell building at a cost of $380,000. Sue Bee Honey was able to take the shell building and complete it to their specifications and needs.

Sue Bee Plant Manager Dale Broeker said there are seven full-time employees at the plant. He said the facility is state of the art. “Everything is run by computer,” said Broeker.

The honey,which is processed at the Elizabethtown facility is utilized in such commercial products as candy, cereals, Arizona tea, and sauces such as those used by Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s and other stores. The honey you find on grocery store shelves comes from a different plant.

Sue Bee Honey is headquartered in Sioux City, Iowa, and is operated by the Sioux Honey Association. The Sioux Honey Association began in 1921 with five beekeepers who came together to market their products. Today, the Sioux Honey Association consists of 300 beekeepers and the cooperative has become an international company.

The Elizabethtown plant receives honey from around the world for processing. Some of the countries shipping honey to the plant include Argentina, Vietnam, India, Mexico, Canada, and Ukraine. The honey arrives in 55 gallon barrels to be processed and shipped in bulk to the customer.

Each shipment of honey must pass strict testing for color and moisture content. The color and flavor of honey can be impacted by the types of flowers and plants the bees are visiting, said Broeker. The test samples must be kept for two years. Once the honey passes the quality control tests, it can then be processed.

The honey arrives packed in a 55 gallon barrel. The lid is removed from the barrel and it is placed in the melter (oven) and heated to 120 degrees until it is the consistency of water. The honey is then pumped from the melters to the settling tanks where it is allowed to set. Broeker said wax will rise to the top and it is removed and things such as bee parts will settle to the bottom of the tank and are removed.

The honey is then pumped to another set of tanks where diatomaceous earth is added to the mixture and the honey is heated to 180 degrees. Once the honey reaches the desired temperature it is then filtered to remove the diatomaceous earth and other particles not removed in the settling process. Once the honey has been filtered, it is then pumped into either five gallon buckets or larger containers, sealed, and shipped to the customer.

Some of the customers served by the Elizabethtown plant include Golden State Foods, Arizona Tea, General Mills, Sara Lee and Smuckers.

Broeker said, on average, the United States consumes about 4 million pounds of honey per year. US beekeepers only produce about half of that amount, he said.

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