What The Supermarket Would Look Like Without Bees
We should be in no doubt that the supermarket would look very different without bees. Bees are responsible for pollinating almost 20% of all flowering plant species worldwide and approximately 400 different types of plants that we use as food sources. In total that's around a third of everything we eat every week. With more people moving towards a plant based diet, it's likely that for many people that number is actually much higher. It's not just food where we would notice a difference in the supermarket either, so join us as we take a walk around a supermarket in a world without bees.
Clothing and Bedding
Before we even get to the food, we would certainly notice a difference in the clothing section of the supermarket as cotton production relies almost entirely on bee pollination. If it were possible to pollinate small cotton crops without them, then you certainly wouldn't find that cotton in inexpensive supermarket clothes. So no cotton t-shirts, pyjamas, summer dresses, cotton socks or denim jeans. In the bedding section there would be no cotton sheets, pillow cases or duvet covers.
You may see natural alternatives like hemp (because it is wind pollinated) but that would almost certainly be more expensive. It's more likely that most inexpensive clothing would be made from man-made fibres as most other plant fibre alternatives also rely on bee pollination to be viable.
Toiletries and Medicines
Things would also look very different in these aisles. Plant-based soaps, conditioners and creams contain many ingredients that rely on bee pollination to exist. Citrus fruits like lemons, shea-butter, beeswax and obviously anything with honey in would not be available. Cotton wool would likely be replaced with some type of cellulose product, but that would have to come from a plant that wasn't reliant on bee pollination too and would also be far more expensive.
The trees that we make common aspirin from are also pollinated by bees, so those would vanish over time. There are also some prescription medicines that use compounds obtained from bee pollinated plants. So again we would be reliant on possible alternatives that would be more expensive and difficult to produce if they were found. Any kind of herbal medicines or remedies would likely vanish from the supermarket shelf too as most herbs rely heavily on bee pollination.
Fruits and Vegetables
In this section of the supermarket we would see a huge difference in the products available. Apples are one of the most affordable fruits that we all enjoy. Without bees to pollinate apple trees this would no longer be the case. Apples in particular require cross-pollination with other varieties that are not closely related to yield a full healthy crop of fruit. Without bees this could be done by human hand, but it would make little economic sense for producers that sell to supermarkets. This would also affect other products around the supermarket like cider, apple pies and apple juice.
Citrus fruits would be almost impossible to find too. Fruits such as oranges and grapefruit rely on honeybees and bumble bees for pollination. Whilst some varieties of citrus fruit are self-fertile and capable of pollinating themselves without bees, the actual yields are greatly improved by the presence of bees. Without them the cost to produce a carton of orange juice would be significantly higher.
While it's not essential for lemon trees to be pollinated by bees, bee pollination plays a big part in the ease in which lemon crops are produced for retail. It's estimated that lemon production would fall by 80% without bee pollination. So again they would be much harder to find and far more expensive.
Other fruits that rely on bee pollination include blueberries, watermelons, cranberries, and cherries. Even just a significant reduction in bee numbers could cause these products to become rare and expensive - without bees at all they would be impossible to find in our supermarkets.
The vegetable aisle may fare a little better without bees, we would still see some vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and turnips and most beans and peas. But it would still look very different with a lot of our favourites missing. Broccoli and asparagus would both disappear from the shelves along with cauliflower, cucumber, aubergine, kale, lettuce, peppers and butternut squash. Everyone's Christmas favourite brussel sprouts would disappear too along with our Halloween pumpkins.
It's estimated that around ½ of all oil production relies on bees for pollination; that includes common cooking oils like sunflower and rapeseed, nut oils and many essential oils used in fragrances etc. Sunflower oil production would be virtually impossible without bees pollinating the plants. The same can be said for oilseed rape crops, which is where our common vegetable oil comes from. In the supermarket we would see a huge drop in availability and massive price increase for most common cooking oils we buy, if they were available at all.
Tea and Coffee
Tea comes from plants that are pollinated by bees, so no bees, no tea in the supermarket. This would obviously be a big problem for us Brits! If you are a coffee drinker you might be a little less distressed wandering down the tea and coffee aisle but you will still notice a change. Robusta varieties of coffee rely on bees for cross-pollination of the plants, so those would go along with any coffee blends that use them. Some coffee varieties can be self-pollinated but even in those cases the presence of bees can dramatically improve the quality and size of the coffee beans, without bees they might not be a viable crop. All coffee would be more difficult and more much expensive to produce, the varieties available would become very limited and what was available would see a very dramatic price increase.
Dairy and Nuts
Dairy cattle feed contains a lot of plant products which are highly reliant on bees for pollination. Without them milk could be significantly more expensive to produce, if milk was available in our bee-less supermarket it could cost a lot more than now. The increased costs of milk production would effect the price and supply of most cheeses, yoghurts, milk chocolates and ice creams too.
If that happened then we might seek out a milk alternative. A popular alternative currently is nut based 'milk'. Unfortunately products like almond milk would completely disappear as the California almond crop requires billions of bees for pollination every year. Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts would also be impossible without bee pollination.
Of course without bees there would be no honey on the shelves and you wouldn't be able to order any more of your favourite Just Bee Honey either! One of our favourite baking and cooking products would be gone and bee keepers would have no bees to look after. We would not see honey in skin remedies, shampoos or other cosmetic products.
It's not an exaggeration to say that we rely on bee pollination to sustain the food system that we sometimes take for granted. Bees aren't the only pollinators in the world, others such as butterflies, ants, birds and beetles all play their part, but none of these can replace the bee if it were to disappear. Bees are the most efficient pollinators for many of the products we buy weekly in our supermarkets and without them doing their hard work, most of it would just be impossible to produce.