Hivos Middle East & North Africa

Middle East & North Africa

Every smart entrepreneur has a secret weapon

I made my way through the small alley that leads to their new office and workshop in Beirut. Clean white marble tiles, sparkling white walls and the smell of paint everywhere showed the place was clearly still under construction. When it’s up and running next month, it will be the third physical space of Atelier du Miel, all designed in the same way. The brand is colourful and cool: straight lines with a lot of repetition, especially by bright glass jars filled with honey.

Six years ago, Marc-Antoine Nassif (36) with his brother Ralf (34) and their friend Rabih Traboulsi (40) started brainstorming about ‘doing something with nature’. But they never ever dreamed they would end up where they are now. The three city boys - with backgrounds in consultancy, architecture and engineering - started their search by reading, talking and travelling around the countryside until came up with …. the bee.

This tiny insect connects everything nature offers: seasons, diversity in flora, soil, height differences, a natural production process and most importantly, a magical product that everyone loves. As Marc-Antoine showed me around, he waxed enthusiastic, “The more we researched, the more we liked the bee. We bought some beehives and we started working and testing. Of course, in the beginning, many beehives died out, but we learned and continued with 30 beehives. We moved them around the country ourselves, following the seasons.”

They found out Lebanon is the only country where you can produce honey during the whole year, thanks to the differences in flora, climate and latitude. It is common knowledge because all tourist brochures mention that in Lebanon you can easily ski in the mountains in the morning and swim in the sea in the afternoon. But this also means Lebanon has ideal circumstances for honey production.

After years of hard work – “everything was difficult, but till now we always found solutions” - they are about to open their third place, have almost five shop-in-shops (in main shopping malls and at the airport) and offer personal and corporate gift boxes. The latter is responsible for a big chunk of the revenues of Atelier du Miel. Their assortment covers 30 plus different kinds of honey – from cedar, eucalyptus and oak to loquat, thyme, and orange blossom – as well as several nougat products, jams and honey mixed with nuts.

They are now focusing on building alliances with partners such as museums, schools and other institutions and people. When this phase is successfully finalized, they will start thinking about how to expand internationally, probably next year.

Their relationship with investors came naturally. The Lebanese Foundation Diane has a strong emphasis on sustainable nature, and it was they who brought Hivos Impact Investments on board. This Fund, based in the Netherlands, keeps a keen eye out for food and lifestyle entrepreneurs. The third party is IM Capital, who believes strongly in the project and actively worked to set up the investor round.

Atelier du Miel’s marketing is robust. They have a good story, the re-usable packaging is attractive and the design of the products is bright, classy and radiates quality. Hivos Impact Investments decided to invest in Atelier du Miel not only because honey is a healthy product, but also because the company strengthens the sustainable local food production chain and is developing the Lebanese market and plan to emerge on the international market.

And … their products are delicious, which of course is also very important! At the end of our meeting, Marc-Antoine revealed the identity of the chef at Atelier du Miel: their mother Zalfa (55). Originally a doctor in philosophy, she creates the recipes and is responsible for making the nougat, jams and other honey-based products. Not surprisingly, a mother turns out to be the secret weapon behind a successful business.