Updated on January 8th, 2021
When we started beekeeping, I began paying close attention to honey prices in our local store. I noticed that comb honey was quite expensive relative to liquid honey in a jar. As a more experienced beekeeper, I’ve learned why comb honey sells at a premium price.
Comb honey (or honeycomb) is more expensive than liquid honey due to its higher production costs (one-time use of beeswax, additional labor for extraction, and increased packaging costs). Also, increasing consumer demand raises prices for raw honey (such as comb honey) vs. processed, liquid honey while high volumes of imported honey help keep the price of liquid honey down.
In this article, we will look at the price of comb honey vs. liquid honey and delve into the details of why comb honey is relatively so expensive.
What is Comb Honey?
Comb honey is “honey presented in its original comb or portions thereof.” It is the purest form of “raw honey” which the National Honey Board defines as “honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat.”
Liquid honey in a jar may be raw or processed honey. Most liquid honey is processed to facilitate packaging and standardize its appearance for marketing.
See our article What Is Raw Honey? (Besides Delicious!) for more information about the differences between raw honey and processed honey.
Comb honey is cut from the beehive frame and sold without processing. It contains any wax, pollen, propolis, and bee parts that the colony may have enclosed with the honey. Honeycomb is precisely the way the bees made it.
A little bit on terminology:
Consider the word “honeycomb” in context. In this article, comb honey and honeycomb both refer to a form of honey delivery.
In beekeeping terms, honeycomb is also the wax mass of hexagonal cells built by bees to store brood, pollen, nectar, and honey. See our article
Retail Prices Of Comb Honey vs. Liquid Honey
I did a survey (admittedly, an unscientific, small sample survey) of honeycomb and liquid raw honey prices on Amazon and some specialty retail sites. If you check your local markets, I expect you will see similar patterns.
This table compares my results for comb honey and liquid raw honey against honey price averages over the past 12 months, according to the National Honey Board:
Comb Honey Retail Price Comparisons
|Price per pound||Comb Honey||Raw Honey||NHB Stats|
Prices within categories may vary for many reasons: size and scope of the beekeeping operation, source of the honey (foreign vs. domestic), floral composition, and marketing prowess, to name a few.
It seems clear that comb honey is quite a bit more expensive than liquid alternatives. This data shows comb honey is almost 2 – 3 times more expensive than liquid honey, on average.
Comb honey is completely edible, wax and all. See our article How To Eat Honeycomb (Yes, It’s Edible!) for more information.
Comb Honey Production Costs
The Cost Of Beeswax
Wax comb has value to both the bees and the beekeeper. It is an “expensive” component of comb honey that must be incorporated in its sales price.
Before doing anything else in a hive, honey bees must make beeswax to create their home. Bees use the wax cells to raise brood, store pollen, and convert nectar into honey. Bees expend a significant amount of time and energy to produce the wax comb.
See our article What Is Honeycomb? (Talking Beeswax) for details on how bees build and use wax comb.
Beeswax Can Be Reused
In a Langstroth hive, the most common type of beehive in North America, beekeepers put removable frames into hives. Wax or plastic “foundation” is usually placed in the center of each frame. Some types of foundation are suitable for extracting liquid honey, but not for cutting out comb honey.
The frames and foundation provide bees with a beginning structure for their wax.
Bee-built comb has a center seam with hexagonal cells on each side. Foundation provides that center seam meaning less wax construction, saving time and energy.
Foundation also gives bees a straight-line guide that results (hopefully) in neater comb formations.
You can also keep bees without foundation. Foundationless beekeeping comes with challenges and benefits. See our article Frames With Foundation (Or Foundationless?) for more information.
The most efficient way to extract honey from a frame is with centrifugal force.
Beekeepers remove wax cappings that seal honey cells and place the frame in an extractor. The extractor spins at high speeds pulling the honey out of the comb.
The uncapped comb, secured by the frame and foundation, remains intact and can be reused in the hive.Reusing the comb makes it less expensive for both bees and beekeepers.
Bees, freed of the time and labor needed to replace comb, can produce more honey. It is a win/win for the bees and beekeeper (but not for comb honey production).
Check out this video about a commercial production honey house which shows the efficiency of centrifugal extraction on a large scale operation:
See our article What Is A Honey House? (Are You Ready For One?) for information about temporary or dedicated honey processing spaces.
Beeswax Can Be Sold
Beeswax is a saleable hive product.
After honey extraction, wax comb can be melted and processed to filter out impurities. The resulting beeswax has value for many uses, including:
- Lip balms;
- Skin salves; and,
- Furniture polish.
For ideas on what to make with beeswax, check out Beeswax Alchemy by Petra Ahnert.
When honey is sold with the comb, the wax is not available for reuse or sale. Beekeepers need to price comb honey to compensate for these lost opportunities.
See more information about Beeswax Alchemy and other books we recommend at 11 Best Beekeeping Books.
Labor Costs Of Comb Honey
Honeycomb is not harvested with the mechanical efficiency of a centrifugal extractor.
Centrifugal extractors are expensive, ranging from around $150 for a small manual machine to thousands of dollars for heavy duty commercial models. However, the cost of an extractor amortizes over years of use.
The most common way to harvest comb honey is by cutting it out by hand. Bee suppliers sell specially designed honey cutters (like this one from Mann Lake), but it’s still a labor intensive process.
Watch how we harvest comb honey from our own hives:
The desired product is a neat, attractive cut of comb.
Bees may connect multiple frames or build wax in undesirable (for the beekeeper) directions (“cross combing”). Some comb may be too thick for packaging. Whatever cannot be sold as honeycomb is cut away for other processing (at additional labor cost).
There are beekeeping supplies designed to eliminate or reduce the cutting process. These devices may also aid in creating desirable comb ready for packaging. However, beekeepers incur the cost of the supplies and the labor to install them in the hive.
An example of these comb honey supplies and additional labor required can be seen in this YouTube video:
Just like with beeswax, beekeepers need to price honeycomb to account for these added labor costs. Otherwise, the sale of comb honey becomes economically unjustified.
Visual appeal is an essential aspect of marketing. Consumers may focus on the color of liquid honey. Comb honey is usually presented in clear plastic that allows examination of the entire product: the color of the honey, the color of the comb, and the completion of the capping.
Honeycomb packaging needs to provide the visual appeal while protecting the product from damage. Broken chunks of comb will not be as appealing or as saleable as one beautiful slab.
Sellers need to account for these packaging costs in their pricing.
Supply And Demand For Comb Honey
As with all products, the economic forces of supply and demand affect honey’s price in all its forms.
Imported products represent a significant component of the U.S. honey market.
As shown in the chart below, 10 countries (led by India, Vietnam and Argentina) imported over 190,000 metric tons of honey in 2018. By comparison, U.S. producers provided only about 70,000 metric tons of honey in 2018 according to the USDA.
Find more statistics at Statista
While some comb honey is imported (like Ziyad Turkish Honeycomb available on Amazon), most foreign honey is liquid, like most domestic honey, is liquid.
The vast amounts of imported honey provide a lot of pricing competition for jar honey.
According to a National Honey Board report on consumer attitudes and usage, raw honey sales are “increasing at the expense of processed honey,” growing to 32% of volume sales.
As I mentioned, comb honey is the purest form of raw honey. Increased consumer demand for raw honey is undoubtedly a factor for upward pressure on honeycomb prices.
Comb honey retails for a much higher per-unit cost than liquid honey.
With the added costs of producing honeycomb (vs. liquid honey), beekeepers need to charge higher prices for their efforts to be profitable.
Consumers are shifting away from large distributors toward local beekeepers but are also becoming more price sensitive. Maybe the pricing gap between comb honey and liquid honey will narrow some. But if consumers are willing to continue paying a sufficient premium for comb honey, beekeepers will continue to provide the product.