When Attiki Bee Culturing Company began selling honey from Mount Hymettus nearly a century ago, it could only be purchased in a small store in the heart of Athens. Today, the company is the number one honey producer in Greece, and has sold its products around the world in over 40 countries across 5 continents.
The family business has passed through three generations of leadership since brothers Alexandros and Panagiotis Pittas founded the company in 1928. “Greek people love the brand – love the honey”, says Alexandra Pitta-Chazapi, Vice President of the Board and Managing Director of Attiki-Pittas. “People say they have grown up with us” – and not just within Greece, she adds, but abroad as well, “They consider Attiki honey the product that connects them with Greece”.
Greek agribusiness may well be at the forefront of the country’s new economic model, particularly as companies such as Attiki-Pittas look to export authentic Greek products into untapped international markets. Honey has always been a staple in the Mediterranean diet and has had cultural significance in Greece for centuries, believed to be the food of Greek gods on Mount Olympus. Today, it’s gaining international recognition as a superfood because of companies like Attiki-Pittas, whose honey was selected as the official health product offered to Olympic athletes when Greece hosted the Olympic Games in 2004.
Attiki-Pittas has distinguished itself for meticulous quality control, carefully monitoring every link on the supply chain from production to the consumer kitchen. The company works with 2,000 beekeepers across Greece, whom they provide with educational training and are proud to call “our family, our people”. Beekeeping in Greece is a nomadic practice: beekeepers move their bees around the fertile countryside so they can draw nectar from variant wildflowers – 1,300 species of which are endemic only to mainland Greece and the Aegean islands. The result is an organic Greek honey – produced with nectar from non-cultivated plants – that is rich in flavour and aroma, and is unique to the Southeast Mediterranean.
It’s the unique flavour that really sets Greek honey apart – though Pitta-Chazapi admits, “It’s not easy to have the same taste in a natural product”. As a result, the company organised a tasting group run by Mrs. Pitta-Chazapi’s brother: “Every day we have tasters who taste the honey. Every day”. What’s more, the woman hired to head the company’s quality control department – tasked with ensuring consistency of taste and quality – has completed her doctorate in honey and is widely regarded as a foremost expert in Europe. It’s no wonder why Pitta-Chazapi takes significant pride in her company’s brand, noting, “When you sell a branded product, [you’re putting] your signature on the product”.
It should come as no surprise that Pitta-Chazapi is a highly respected and influential businesswoman in Greece. Hardworking, humble and a staunch supporter of meritocracy, she believes in the value of reaping what you sow. And while she displays obvious dedication to tradition and quality standards, she has an entrepreneurial spirit and pushes Attiki-Pittas to constantly innovate and evolve.
The company can attribute much of its initial success to its founders’ decision to offer honey in small, portable packaging – rather than replicating the bulk quantities of competitors. Recently, the company has worked to redesign its product packaging, creating easy-to-open tops for its lithograph tins. Attiki-Pittas also started creating individualised portion packs across the product line, including an award-winning 100g “Smart Pack” as well as sticks of honey to take with coffee or tea on the go, a healthy substitute for refined sugar. When the economic crisis struck Greece, the company refused to make cutbacks, instead investing 15 million euros to build a new factory that would allow them to further adapt to consumer needs.
Those investments and innovations are paying off. Attiki-Pittas has accomplished impressive international growth, expanding into markets in North America, Australia, the Middle East and, most recently, East Asia. The company aims to further increase its exports from 15 percent to 30 in three years’ time. Such efforts will not come without significant challenges, however. The high quality of Attiki-Pittas’ honey is reflected in prices, which means the company risks being priced out of certain markets. Honey is the third most adulterated product in the world, and other companies less interested in authenticity and quality control are able to sell their products at a much lower rate. As a result, Attiki-Pittas sometimes has difficulties getting potential buyers to even taste their honey, despite the quality guarantee. Pitta-Chazapi doesn’t seem too concerned, however, expressing confidence in the superior taste of Attiki honey, “If they taste the product, they become consumers”.
Also the Vice President of the Panhellenic Exporters Association, Pitta-Chazapi is a prominent activist for protections for European honey producers. Attiki-Pittas’ senior leadership promotes controls on honey imported into the European Union – including infrastructure designed to trace production origins in an effort to eliminate fraud. As for their own products, the company is eager to employ quality labels on its packaging, denoting the authenticity of the honey, as increases products’ competitive-edge on an international level.
If Attiki-Pittas is able to fulfill its goal of becoming a global brand, they will be able to, in turn, make further investments in some of the features that have brought them so much domestic success: more accessible packaging, additional options for consumers and, even more meticulous quality checks. The company is forecasting significant growth in coming years: “We expect to increase our consumption in Greece but also to increase our exports in many parts of the world”. No matter how much the company manages to expand, though, Pitta-Chazapi can guarantee there will be no diminution in robust quality standards, “We have to be sure that the product we give to the customers is 100 percent natural as it is in the hive”.