After the fire that destroyed the roof and spire of France’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, there was a piece of good news: the bees have survived.
The startup behind the Notre-Dame beehives is called Beeopic, a small, tightly-run operation that after a successful run in the Paris area is poised to expand across the country — and beyond.
Nine years ago, Nicolas Geant, 51, launched an online business, making it easy to order, set up and manage a beekeeping hive at home. This was a novel concept in France at the time. Before that, you had to find a beekeeper in your village, call a friend of a friend.
In addition to being one of the pioneers of the customer-centric beekeeping e-commerce, Geant also introduced a B2C operation selling beekeeping hives and managing these for a handful of high-profile clients like Notre-Dame and Palais Royale.
At the end of May, Beeopic is poised to sell its retail stores in France to Cerea Partenaire to expand across Europe. It’s planning to sell its B2B operations by the end of the year to a company that will take it nationwide.
Geant’s retirement project? He’s aiming to take on the ready-for-disruption U.S. beekeeping market, where his son Quentin is already busy laying the groundwork for their fledgling business.
Riding the Beekeeping Hobby Trend
At the heart of Beeopic’s growth story over the past nine years is their early mover advantage as an e-commerce player in the French market, coinciding with a broader transformation of beekeeping from an archaic craft to a trendy hobby.
The history of beekeeping in France, like many countries in Europe, is tied with the history of the Catholic Church, which traditionally engaged in beekeeping to supply candle wax for its many parishes over the centuries. And it was the church beekeepers who were the primary breeders of bees and are responsible for the dominant species currently abuzz in Europe.
With the decline of the Catholic Church — both its finances and staff — the beekeeping profession has declined as well. Moreover, it became an archaic craft, difficult to navigate or start on your own as a hobby.
“Before, it was professional beekeepers. You have 500 hives, you make honey in bulk and you sell that,” Geant explains. “In the last 10 years, people who work a lot, have two kids, a garden and a dog. Now they want to have chickens and bees, they want to produce their own eggs and honey — that is what we’ve seen.”
This was where Geant saw an opportunity. He started selling the beehive kits online, experimenting with product offerings and introducing new services to meet customer demand.
Beeopic added educational classes to meet corporate thirst for information about beekeeping and interactive CSR activities. Gradually, the educational component became 30% of their total activities and Geant estimates it would be 50% in a couple of years.
As awareness of bees’ population shifts and their enormous agricultural and environmental impact increased, so did consumer and corporate demand for beekeeping.
Bee populations have been declining globally. In the U.S., the bee population has fallen for the past three decades even though bees boost crop value by more than $15 billion each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
And the social impact of beekeeping industry is vast: from managing hives in a sustainable manner to packaging, there are multiple avenues for disruption.
“A lot of people are starting to catch on,” says Hamish Baillieu, a New York-based analyst at Flat World Partners. “There is the organic lifestyle, people caring about what they’re putting in their bodies, and also lifestyle (element), putting beehives on your roofs in metropolitan areas. There is a lot of public awareness, social impact side of it. There is growth behind protecting bees, people are really recognizing it.”
In addition to being trendy, agriculture businesses are also recognizing the benefits of pollination.
Beeopic has now many more competitors in France compared with when it got started, and its founder see similar dynamics in other markets.
Bailleu says compelling market dynamics is making more investors pay attention to this sector.
There is also a range of products beyond honey associated with beekeeping, including bee pollen, which as a standalone market is estimated to reach $800 million by the end of 2025 from $520 million last year.
“If there was a young company solving a massive problem, a business model showing validation, growing in the direction we want to see, we’d definitely be interested in it,” he says of this space. “We are starting to see more and more opportunities.”
While there are several so-called bee tech startups in Europe, the segment is still a relatively nascent category in the United States.
For Geant, this means now is the right time to enter the U.S. market, which he sees as being dominated by big players who are not easily accessible to consumers.
“Now (in the U.S.) to have a beehive in your garden or rooftop — it’s not easy,” he says. “Exactly the same as it was here 10 years ago. Now it’s the beginning.”