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Lignum Honey founder Kenneth Benjamin is bringing Jamaican 'liquid gold' to Toronto's culinary scene

Today, its scotch-bonnet pepper honey is the star of its liquid gold lineup and is a product he hopes can help generate the company $100,000 in revenue this year.

Lignum Honey founder Kenneth Benjamin is bringing Jamaican 'liquid gold' to Toronto's culinary scene
Lignum Honey founder Kenneth Benjamin is planning a number of activations this year, following a recent pop-up experience, called The Drake's High Tea + High Tops at the Drake Hotel in Toronto. SUBMITTED PHOTO 

It was early 2019 when Kenneth Benjamin was returning from a trip to visit family in Jamaica. On that trip, he bought all his favourite snacks, coffee, and drinks to take home. But in that split second, he thought about one of Jamaica’s best-kept secrets — honey.

Wanting to bring some back to Canada, he immediately contacted cousins and offered to split a five-gallon pail of honey. Upon his return, he realized the demand was sky high between friends and family, and his gears started turning.

“We ended up having to sell (the first batch I brought). The demand was so high, so I immediately thought, ‘man, this could be a thing,’” Benjamin told Black Dollar Magazine. “I started doing some research in June 2019, following that trip for the next four months, learning about Jamaican honey, what it would take to import it on a commercial scale, and spent time looking for suppliers and building the brand.”

By December 2019, Lignum Honey was born. Today, its scotch-bonnet pepper honey is the star of its liquid gold lineup and is a product he hopes can help generate the company $100,000 in revenue this year.

Lignum Honey also offers its infused honey products in other flavours, including mango, ginger, logwood, and multi-floral honey.

Eventually, Benjamin says his goal is to export honey from all 14 parishes in Jamaica. But, as he recalled, finding suppliers wasn't easy at first.

“It was a challenge to get farmers to buy into my model because of insurance and the demand on the island. There are not many farmers who need to sell off the island. But once I came in and started trying to expose those suppliers to the demand that’s available off the island, and the potential, I was able to get a select few that bought into the vision,” Benjamin said.

“I still work with them to this day.”

From St. Thomas to Portland, Portland to St. Elizabeth, St. Elizabeth to Clarendon, he has forged relationships with various suppliers on the island.

Benjamin said that paying upfront for 30 gallons of honey was a huge convincer, leading to trust and goodwill developed over time.

He also said he was transparent in demonstrating potential demand in North America, collecting data for farmers who had always considered exporting their honey but perhaps never met the right partner to execute.

“I think that helped to sway them to get people to buy in and take a shot at something that's never been done,” Benjamin said. “There were some suppliers who had had export ambitions but maybe never got around to it. I was blessed to connect with government officials in the export authority, which then gave me information on how to get around the red tape, how to position yourself properly for export to get grants and that kind of stuff.”

To grow his business base further, he joined Foodpreneur’s Lab’s Start & Scale Path program to gain additional experience. Foodpreneur Lab is a non-profit, Black-woman-led organization supporting food entrepreneurs in Ontario.

While he admits to a rocky start, Benjamin said program leaders Janice Bartley and, specifically, Marie Fitrion encouraged him.

“I started to buy into the seminars and programs and tried to leverage them. We’ve built this amazing relationship where they add so much value to my business in terms of not just advice and access to resources. But sometimes, it was just mentorship and encouragement, ideas, and collaborations,” he said.

Most recently, he appeared at The Drake's High Tea + High Tops experience at the Queen St. hotel in Toronto. Partnered with Foodpreneur Lab, the Drake Hotel is providing a unique culinary experience for program graduates to display their offerings.

“It has been like a match made in heaven,” Benjamin said of the opportunity with the Drake. “It’s been an extreme blessing from the sense of… their name carries weight. When you're in a big hotel, it’s extremely important for our brand, especially in Toronto. This is a city of cuisines, and it’s done a lot for us to be exposed in this way.”

Benjamin mentioned partnerships with Robinson’s Gourmet Sauces founder Robert Robinson and House of Tigernut founder Michael Msouwaifo — the ability to meet and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs in the food industry — as a bonus.

He added affiliations with The Hazelton Hotel Toronto and restaurants in Ottawa and Montreal are also helping big-time to improve sales and boost brand awareness. In the past, Benjamin has done events with Pinterest and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Moreover, activations with renowned Toronto chef Tre Sanderson are also expected this year, he said, as well as spot-check market appearances at Wychwood Barns, the Deeply Rooted Farmers Market, the Stackt Market and the Leslieville Flea.

“I want to do honey tastings with wine and cheeses. I've been working with a cheese boutique, which has given me (the game) on how to prepare cheeses. What I want to be doing, launching in June, is once-a-month, very small honey pairing and tasting experiences throughout the city at different boutique hotels and locations — mix it up so people can see the city. I want to build a consumer community,” Benjamin said.

“My mission is to elevate a million palates through the introduction of honey and just keep giving you guys awesome liquid gold.”