This question is asked frequently, not by beekeepers but by people who just want to buy a chunk of honeycomb. “You don’t even have to do anything to it,” was the complaint I heard recently.
A number of factors affect the price of comb honey, some more than others. The following issues (in random order) all play a part:
- The production of wax comb is energy expensive for the bees. Estimates vary but bees need to eat approximately 6-8 pounds of honey to produce a pound of beeswax. So if you priced the bees work based on the number of calories consumed, honey plus wax costs a lot more than just honey.
- Related to the above is the fact that comb honey production is a one-time use of wax comb, whereas extracted honey producers can use the same comb over and over again. So instead of spreading the cost of beeswax over many harvests, comb honey spreads it over only one.
- Beeswax is valuable, so even if a beekeeper did not plan to re-use his combs, he can make more money selling the wax and the honey separately—unless his comb honey price is high enough to cover the difference.
- A lot of “waste” is associated with comb honey production. Although this waste (imperfect combs, damaged combs, combs with brood, etc.) is put to other uses, it reduces the total yield from a crop of comb honey.
- Comb honey equipment is expensive. Whether the beekeeper uses basswood boxes, plastic boxes, or even just Styrofoam trays, there is a large outlay for all the materials necessary to prepare the honey supers and package the product. Also, storing and marketing is more expensive because the product is fragile and easily damaged—unlike honey in a jar.
- Comb honey production is more labor intensive for the beekeeper than extracted honey production. Especially if section honey is produced, bees must be managed at the brink of swarming to get them to fill those cute little boxes.
- Comb honey is not so sensitive to the effects of cheap imported honey dumped on U.S. markets. Most imported honey is extracted and so affects extracted honey prices to a greater degree.
- The fact the “pure, natural comb honey straight from the bee to you” has been embraced by both upscale restaurants and uppity food catalogs has given comb honey a boost. It is not hard to find catalogs selling comb honey at $24.95 for 12 ounces. While that is not the norm, comb honey at farmers markets and small retail outlets often hovers around $1 an ounce–especially in urban areas.