Barnes Honey is possibly the oldest honey brand in the Australian market. The brand had its origins in a small shop in St Kilda, Melbourne, rented for five shillings a week by brothers W, J (James) and F (Fred) Barnes. Now known as Barnes Naturals, the brand is currently owned by Australia’s largest honey company, Capilano.
In the early 19th century, honey was generally still being imported from England. By the 1830s, European honey bees had been introduced with some success. Bee-keeping was recommended as a venture for small farmers and cottagers and over the following decades local honey became available from apiarists. Some businesses began to buy and pack the honey for local sale or export.
The Barnes brothers were pioneers of the honey-packing business. According to an account in the Richmond Guardian in 1915, they started the first honey-packing establishment in Australia as a means of helping cousins in the bee-keeping trade dispose of their wares. Barnes moved to premises in East Melbourne in 1898 on a site later occupied by the Victoria Brewery. At that time their honey was available for sixpence (five cents), ninepence or tenpence a jar.
The Melbourne Herald in 1901 tells of a glass-framed hive exhibited by W. J. & F. Barnes at the Royal Melbourne Show. The report states that:
The Messrs Barnes have their own apiary in South Yarra, but this, of course, only supplies a small portion of their requirements, as their sale of honey to storekeepers is very large, and they annually handle prodigious quantities. Their stocks are drawn from a large number of first class Victorian apiaries.
In 1915, the company opened a factory in Swan Street, Burnley, The firm also manufactured cereal products and imported nutmeg and pepper. In subsequent years, honey began to be sourced from other states, with Barnes claiming that “only the best honey gathered from the mountainous districts of Australia is packed and exported and a high standard of quality is maintained”.
In 1968, Barnes Honey was bought by Tongala Milk Products Pty Ltd, the local subsidiary of the Swiss company Oursina SA. It was later sold to Farmers Union who, in 1989, sold it to Capilano. The original Barnes range, which included their popular Creamed Honey, no longer exists. Barnes Naturals is now Capilano’s organic offering and is marketed based on its health-giving properties. The range includes Active Manuka & Jarrah honeys and Oli-K8 honey from Australian eucalypts.