It may seem odd that Capilano Honey is named after a river in Canada. The Capilano River flows through Vancouver and the name is an Anglicised version of the Squamish Nation’s Kia’palano, which means “beautiful river.” But the mystery is easily solved. One of the founders of Capilano, apiarist Tim Smith, married a Canadian he met while stationed in Canada as a RAAF flying instructor in World War II and the company was named in honour of Jill Smith’s native land.
Tim and his brother, Bert, founded Capilano in Richlands, Brisbane, in 1953 as a cooperative of beekeepers. The aim was to support local apiarists and provide some stability in the honey market. Initially, the honey from various sources was blended to produce a consistent flavour and sold to grocery stores in the Brisbane area. It was marketed as Smiths Capilano Honey, with a catch cry of “Caps them all”. A creamed honey product was also on the market by the mid-1960s.
The business grew, with interstate apiarists joining as shareholders and suppliers. In 1968, Capilano opened a packing plant in Sydney. In 1974, the company changed its name from Capilano Apiaries to Honey Corporation of Australia.
By 1987, Capilano was packing around 50 per cent of Australia’s honey. That year also saw Capilano move into varietal honeys, with Blue Gum, Red Gum, Clover, Yellow Box, Iron Bark and Stringy Bark available on supermarket shelves. Two years later, the company expanded its share of the honey market by purchasing its competitor, Barnes Honey. Further acquisitions followed, including the Allowrie brand and Wescobee in Perth.
The name of the company reverted to Capilano Honey Limited in 1995. By the turn of the century, it was the third-largest honey company in the world, exporting to almost 40 countries. It now has operations in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria. The cooperative structure continued until 2004 when Capilano was corporatised and listed on the Bendigo Stock Exchange, moving to the Australian Stock Exchange in 2012. In 2018, it was acquired by an Australian Venture Capital Fund, Wattle Hill RHC, and is now trading under the Hive+Wellness banner, along with the Barnes Naturals and Wescobee brands.
In 2018, Capilano Honey was embroiled in a controversy, with allegations that honey was being adulterated by the addition of sugar syrup. The Allowrie brand, in particular, was targeted. While Capilano’s own branded product was all-Australian, Allowrie contained a high proportion of honey imported from Argentina. Capilano denied all the allegations and an investigation subsequently cleared them of any wrongdoing. In 2019, the company decided to “retire” the Allowrie brand.
In 2023, IBISWorld reported that honey industry revenue had been growing at an annualised 2.3% over the past five years and was expected to total $285.5 million in 2023-24. A sweet future in store for Australia’s largest honey company.