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velvet bees honey in jar

Sweet success

–by Brittany Gilbertson

Krista and Steve Aspinwall
Krista and Steve Aspinwall, cofounders of Velvet Bees Gourmet Honey Butter.

A new Minnesota food product is finding its way into stores nationwide thanks to production improvements for Velvet Bees Gourmet Honey Butter. Created by Krista and Steve Aspinwall in 2011, the honey butter will soon be available in 22 states with plans to continue reaching
new markets.

The founders were living in New Mexico and looking for their next job opportunity when they landed on a move to Minnesota. Krista’s mother urged the couple to consider creating a business with her honey butter recipe. Throughout its growth, the company has remained family-owned.

When the Aspinwalls first began production, they produced five jars per batch. Since moving into a commercial production space, the company now produces 40 jars per batch. To support developing a plan for increased production, Velvet Bees contacted the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI).

“We felt reaching out to AURI would be beneficial. We are at a place in our growth where we need advice about how to scale up production, to determine if our process lends itself to a co-packer, to identify equipment to improve our current fully hand-crafted process and to expand our line to include other flavors,” said Krista Aspinwall, cofounder of Velvet Bees Gourmet Honey Butter.

“AURI’s technical consulting team serves food entrepreneurs who are developing and commercializing new products for retail outlets,” said Donna O’Connor, scientist of food & nutrition. “For the honey butter, AURI has provided assistance with nutrition facts labeling, regulatory review, local ingredient suppliers, scaling-up batches and new flavor development. Scientists are also assisting with various aspects of stability assessment, product analytical testing and equipment evaluations.”

A proprietary process blends five ingredients – honey, butter, cream, sugar and vanilla – to create a delicious product with the right texture for easily smearing on toast as well as drizzling over Honey buttercheese and adding into sauces. The sweet and savory uses helped fuel growth. The company, with AURI’s support, is conducting taste test panels to assess consumer acceptance and competitive brand comparisons.

The all-natural product first sold in Minnesota farmer’s markets. Introduction to specialty food retailers brought the product out-of-state. Now, Velvet Bees Gourmet Honey Butter has saturated the Twin Cities market with 75 regional locations including local co-ops, Kowalski’s, Lunds & Byerlys, Surdyk’s and other retailers.

“The refrigerated dips and spreads category is growing,” said O’Connor. “Market trends indicate that the consumer is buying unique flavors with natural, clean-label ingredients. Velvet Bees Gourmet Honey Butter fits into this trend given its versatility in use, whipped full-fat texture and delicious honey-vanilla flavor.”

Especially around the holiday season, unique artisanal products are in high demand. Velvet Bees Gourmet Honey Butter just finished one of its busiest production seasons and is looking to achieve greater growth throughout 2016.

“We make a product that is well received and enjoyed by thousands of people. The feedback we get is encouraging and inspiring,” said Aspinwall. “We hope to expand nationally and be available at large grocery store chains – without losing that hand-crafted nature of a very special product. We are thrilled to be included in the work and resources that AURI provides that will assist us in taking our little company to the next level and beyond.”

 AURI and Velvet Bees

Idea to reality:
Krista and Steve Aspinwall’s move to Minnesota turned a family recipe for honey butter into a whipped, creamy gourmet spread and a national business.

AURI’s role:
AURI scientific staff Donna O’Connor, Ranae Jorgenson and Carissa Nath helped with labeling, sourcing ingredients and suppliers, product testing and stability, scale-up and regulatory review. Sensory panels are currently being conducted.

The company has a large regional presence in specialty markets and grocery stores, and will soon be sold in 22 states. The Aspinwalls just finished one of its busiest production seasons and is looking to achieve greater growth throughout 2016.

> Watch a video from Greater MSP on Velvet Bees Honey Butter