My Week: Sarah Orecchia of UnBEElievable Health

Sarah Orecchia, founder of UnBEElievable Health, on the amazing properties of propolis, corruption in the natural health industry and why Gwyneth Paltrow loves her products.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I've always hated taking over-the-counter prescription medicine. You don't really know what chemicals you're putting into your body. For example, loads of cough medicines contain chloroform and ingredients that are carcinogenic in large quantities. I started researching natural alternatives and became really interested in propolis, the resinous mixture collected by honey bees. 

Propolis is renowned for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and healing properties. It has been used in natural medicine for thousands of years and traces have even been found on Egyptian mummies - the propolis helped preserve the bodies and kept the bacteria out. I started taking propolis regularly as a supplement and then I met up with some nutritionists and started working on a formula.

I launched UnBEElievable Health two and a half years ago, and now we have a range of products aimed at dealing with various health issues. Despite being a tiny team, we are now in 600 stores in the UK. UnBEElievable products were rolled out across 400 Holland & Barrett outlets at the end of last year and it's been manic ever since.

Like any entrepreneur, I work all hours. I'm up at 6:30am every morning and in the evenings, after I put my kid to bed, I'm back at my computer. Right now, I've got about ten projects on the go. I'm hoping to do a bee event in late spring/early summer in association with Wholefoods Market to raise awareness about the massive decline of bees. That takes a lot of organising. The ethical side of my business means a lot to me - I basically want to be the Burt's Bees of nutritional supplements.

I'm also drawing up our marketing plan for the year. Part of that involves launching our first video campaign. We've just borrowed some bee costumes from Friends of the Earth so hopefully I'll have the first episode of our micro sitcom ready in time for spring.

On top of that, I've got a colleague on the other side of the world setting up meetings in New Zealand and Australia to take the products out there. Supplements aren't big sellers in summer - propolis is great for hayfever but people just don't think about supplements that much at that time of year. So, we're trying to make connections that will help us balance out the seasonality of our business.

But the marketing stuff is actually my greatest challenge at the moment. New EU regulations make it almost impossible to say what your product does. Despite the sheer volumes of research backing propolis, unless I get £100,000 and launch a trial with 100 people to prove the stuff works, I can't even put the health benefits on the box. That said, there's a reason for the crack down. Up until now, there were people importing supplements in bulk from China and slapping their label on it without even really knowing what they were selling.

One of our suppliers was recently sent some pomegranate extract by a new company. He analysed a sample because he hadn't worked with those guys before. Turned out there was no pomegranate in there at all. That's why I track every single ingredient that goes into UnBEElievable. I know where it comes from, how it's grown and how it's been transported. It's not enough to have hundreds of testimonials, have Gwyneth Paltrow write about UnBEElievable in her newsletter or hear that Victoria Pendleton's a big fan, you have to prove that your products are ethical, and contain what you say they do.

Although, that whole Gwyneth Paltrow thing was pretty great...

Find out more about UnBEElievable Health.

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