Running a bees and spirits business on low-code

We look at how a small honey and gin producer has adapted and grown its business without requiring external software development expertise

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British Honey Company is a gin and spirit company that used Apple subsidiary Claris to pivot during the pandemic. The business is powered by the low-code platform FileMaker, from Claris.

Michael Williams, CEO at British Honey Company, has been a long-term user of Claris FileMaker. “I’ve been using Claris FileMaker since 1987 so, when I set up the British Honey Company, FileMaker was there from the start and has been behind everything we do within the business ever since,” he said.

British Honey was established in 2014 in the Cotswolds. As it has evolved, the business has continued to rely on Claris FileMaker to enable these changes and to pivot to meet changing consumer demands, said Williams.

Describing the evolution of the business, he said: “British Honey essentially started out as a beekeeping hobby, which grew into a small bee-farming business, selling our honey under the Keepr’s label. We then expanded into alcohol production using our 100% British honey to make a range of honey spirits – gin, bourbon, rum and vodka. During the pandemic, we have also used excess capacity at our distillery to make alcohol sanitiser to tackle shortages and satisfy the growing demand in the supply chain.”

Claris FileMaker is at the core of the company, supporting the function of the business, said Williams.

On the beekeeping side of our business, Claris FileMaker manages the whole process, he explained. “Beekeeping isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. It’s a complex operation where we need to have absolute traceability and a complete overview of every element of the process, from harvesting the honey from the hive, right through to the jar.”

Claris FileMaker has enabled British Honey to develop a collective system, to which all its beekeepers and staff have access. “This system allows us to manage the process and ensure provenance of our products, which is especially crucial as the business grows and traceability becomes more complex,” said Williams.

Claris FileMaker supports the production of spirits in a similar way, tracing the honey used from hive to bottle. “This enables us to monitor quality control and to comply with the various safety standards and regulations, including Safe and Local Supplier Approval (SALSA), within the industry,” he said.

“When we opened our distillery in 2019, Claris FileMaker empowered us to create custom-built software that allowed us to track the movements of our gin during the various stages of production.”

Given that the basic ingredient for hand sanitiser is the same as the company’s spirit brands, during the pandemic, British Honey identified an opportunity to move into the production of alcohol-based sanitisers to help the NHS and the UK keep up with demand. “We started producing sanitiser in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, and by May 2020 we had recorded £500,000 in sales,” said Williams.

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As the economy reopens, Williams has further plans to expand the use of Claris FileMaker across the business. “Over the years, we’ve seen more demand for low-code solutions,” he said. “Our e-commerce sales escalated during the pandemic, and we expect this trend to continue as restrictions ease. Claris FileMaker will be integral to supporting the development of our online offerings – from more seamless ordering to a more personalised experience for consumers.”

The business is also expanding and Williams has put Claris FileMaker as the backbone to support this. For instance, the company recently acquired Union Distillers, which makes the Two Birds Spirits brand and manufactures about 300 white label spirits. “Since that acquisition, we have been installing our Claris FileMaker across Union Distillers’ systems,” he said. “So far, we have completed approximately 80% of the installation in three weeks, including user training.”

Williams said the company is also looking at offering small craft companies a “one-stop shop” to sell, manufacture and distribute their products. All of this will be underpinned by British Honey Company’s bespoke FileMaker programme, along with subscription packages where FileMaker is used to support management of the orders. “We plan to invest heavily in new advancement and innovative ideas using Claris FileMaker,” he added.

As Claris FileMaker is a low-code platform, the technical barriers to building custom software to meet particular business objectives are far lower than in traditional software development, said Williams. “If you have some technical skills, you can develop a custom platform, app or service that fits your unique business needs. Low-code platforms are now essential, especially for agile businesses needing to change direction quickly.

“With Claris FileMaker, our staff can develop programs at a rapid pace, which helps us adapt the business to current needs without having to outsource or hire expensive technical software engineers. Using our own employees as developers saves us both money and time.”

This flexibility makes the company more agile and able to meet new customer demands, without having to incur considerable expense and time on new software implementations. “We can react to consumer demand for different types of spirits, such as an increased desire for low-alcohol drinks or the recent explosion in demand for hard seltzers,” said Williams.

The apps and systems created are completely customisable and unique to the business, which helps British Honey to maximise productivity, he added.

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