H.L. Franklin's Healthy Honey, distributing attractively packaged honey in eight flavor variations identified with floral sources, shares a building on Statesboro's North Main Street with the law offices of H. Lehman Franklin Jr. and his daughter Laura's public relations and marketing firm, LF&CO.
In fact, Laura Franklin Cooke also owns the honey company, having purchased it in 2013 from her brother, H. Lehman Franklin III, who launched the brand in 2011. It's named for their late grandfather, the original H.L. Franklin, and along the way to developing the brand, his grandchildren learned that a beekeeper with a family tradition of his own was keeping bees on their family farm.
"We still work with a fifth-generation beekeeper that keeps his bees on our Franklin family farm as one of the locations of the hives, and it was just this harmonious, wonderful information that we learned along the way," Cooke said.
That beekeeper, who has a separate business, was not interviewed for this story. He is one of several beekeepers from whom Cooke purchases the raw material.
You see, H.L. Franklin's Healthy Honey is not in the beekeeping business, but is a honey distributor.
"That's the beauty of it because we get to work with several beekeepers in different areas and choose the best honey that they harvest, that the bees produce, and that way we're able to offer more flavors," Cooke said. "We don't infuse flavors. It's all pure from the bees, from the floral source."
The varietal names identify the primary flowers or blossoms from which the bees gather nectar. H.L. Franklin's eight varieties are blackberry, cotton, gallberry, orange blossom, palmetto, sourwood, tupelo and wildflower.
Nectar near and far
A "flavor variation" sheet the company distributes includes descriptions of the honey from each of the eight plant sources. It also identifies where the beehives are placed to produce the honey. For example, the hives for blackberry honey are in Bryan, Bulloch, Candler, Evans, Long and Tattnall counties. For the cotton honey, it's Bulloch, Burke, Candler, Emanuel, Evans, Jenkins and Tattnall.
But the orange blossom honey and palmetto honey come from Lake County, Florida. The sourwood honey hails all the way from Swain County, North Carolina, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.
"Currently we range from three to four beekeepers, depending on how much honey they have that season, but we're always looking for more because we want to be able to spread the love of honey," Cooke said. "We want to grow."
Cooke grew up here and graduated from Statesboro High School, but after getting her degree from Brenau University, she moved to New York City, where she remained for 20 years, working in marketing and public relations. She did this work for Kiehl's, the cosmetics company, as an employee for 10 of those years, but also founded her own firm, LF&CO.
She married a New Yorker, David Charles Cooke, known by his nickname B Cooke, in 2008. He is part owner of a restaurant in New York and has other businesses, his wife said. But their wedding was in Savannah, and they chose to make Statesboro their home for bringing up their two daughters, now 6 and 2 years old.
LF&CO remains Cooke's main business. Kiehl's is one of her major clients, as she handles the company's global celebrity relations, doing things like sending gift boxes to famous people and seeking endorsements. She has an LF&CO address in New York and maintains a membership in a Los Angeles club for meeting clients there.
But LF&CO's staffed headquarters is in Statesboro. For a PR and marketing firm, its war board carries some unusual instructions, such as "make honey straws" for when staff members get free time from other duties.
Keeping H.L. Franklin's Healthy Honey a family business, Cooke said she often consults both her brother Lehman and their sister, Julie Franklin, who operates a letterpress print shop in Atlanta.
The only jars the honey is currently sold in are six-sided, heavy glass jars with antique-look labels and the slogan "only the finest honey in the world." The label also notes that it is all-natural, raw honey. It is also sold in honey straws, like plastic drinking straws sealed on each end, for sweetening beverages or sipping as a snack.
'The only perfect food'
While taking the honey company from a home kitchen operation to renovated space in the office building, Cooke has also learned some deep honey lore.
"Honey has been around forever. I mean, it was in King Tut's tomb when they opened it, and the honey was in perfect condition," she said. "Honey is the only perfect food that there is. It never expires, and it's just packed full of so many healthy enzymes and antioxidants and pollens and vitamins and minerals that are just so good for your body, inside and out."
The Statesboro Herald has not researched this topic enough to verify whether edible honey was actually found in King Tut's tomb or other ancient Egyptian tombs. Quick searches online produced no archeological source, but showed that the story is often repeated in the honey industry and by natural foods advocates.
Honey is obviously very slow to spoil, if it ever does, but it often crystalizes. Even then it can be restored to a liquid, as noted on Franklin's Healthy Honey labels, by heating but it but not to a boil.
Readers can research nutrient content of honey themselves. One source is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov.
However, the reporter accepted an offered taste test and was able to verify that flavor and mouth feel do differ among the eight nectar sources. Tupelo honey, a light golden honey, did indeed have "buttery undertones," as the H.F. Franklin's Healthy Honey description says. It is the one variety that never crystalizes, Cooke said.
Sourwood honey, also considered a premium variety, is medium to dark amber. The gallberry honey was dark and intensely sweet.
Rapid crystallization is a characteristic of cotton honey; the pale honey from cotton nectar comes already partially crystallized in the jar. But Cooke says that many people do enjoy eating it.
Others make cosmetic use of it as a scrub. She is considering a wide-mouth, non-glass jar for cotton honey so people can take it with them to the bathtub.
H.L. Franklin's Healthy Honey takes part in the Georgia Grown promotional program and has been featured at several farm markets. It is also sold through www.franklinfoodsllc.com and by a number of Statesboro retailers.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.