Knook #2: Fix & Fogg
How a peanut butter maker is changing the way we view the humble spread.
It takes roughly 540 peanuts to make a 340-gram jar of peanut butter. And when you’re making approximately 15,000 jars a week, that’s a fair crack of peanuts.
Wellington-based nut butter company Fix & Fogg is now in more than 400 supermarkets and exports to 4 countries, selling more than a jar a minute.
I caught up with co-founder Roman Jewell, who along with his wife Andrea, started the business five and a half years ago, and asked how they got started.
“We were both lawyers looking for a new challenge. After trying a number of options — pottery, bee keeping, cheese-making — we settled on peanut butter.
“We bought a peanut grinder from India for $5k once we paid all the customs and freight costs. When it arrived, it looked shocking. We ended up having to bin it and get someone local to make one for us.
“We eventually started renting the Hataitai Lawn Bowls Club kitchen for two hours on a Friday evening and then selling at the Berhampore community market. The timing was pretty unfortunate — we started on the journey with a three week old baby.
“We then moved to a dodgy basement across from Wellington Chocolate Factory in Eva Street and turned that into our factory. That’s where a buyer for Moore Wilson’s found us and bought some jars.”
Getting those first big sales is always tough, especially in food and beverage. I asked Roman what were some of the factors in their success.
“We just focused on selling peanut butter. We stayed persistent on that and drove hard for sales. When we first started, we were even doing free delivery in Wellington — anything for a sale. Our process was quite driven by the idea that big things broken into small parts makes them more achievable.”
Fix & Fogg now boasts a range of nine nut butters, from Smooth and Crunchy, through to Dark Chocolate, an almond butter and their most recent Everything Butter, packed full of hemp, chia, sesame, sunflower, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds with peanuts and almonds.
“We were having lunch with Thom [Brooks, F&F’s General Manager] and he starts sprinkling cayenne pepper on his peanut butter, and adding coriander and bits and pieces and we were trying to work out what he was doing.
“This led to the development of our first ‘interesting’ peanut butter — Smoke and Fire. I was making the label and couldn’t work out curves on InDesign so that’s why all the shapes on the label are geometric.
“It sparked this realisation that peanut butter doesn’t just have to be on toast. We loved doing something interesting — even our sales window keeps things interesting.”
It’s clear that innovation was embedded in the company from the beginning. Roman mentions in passing how they used to use a goldminer’s sieve to sift out crunchy peanuts like that sort of lateral thinking is no big deal. I asked Roman how he kept that spirit of innovation at the heart company even while growing.
“Innovation is the lifeblood of our business — it’s what makes us tick. Despite all the challenges and time costs associated with exploring new ideas or concepts (that either work or fail) it’s something we love to do which is why we’re motivated to keep innovating even as we grow.”
Fix & Fogg’s journey so far has led to them tackling the big old US of A. The US is the home and the world’s biggest market of peanut butter. Peanut butter is consumed in about 89 percent of US households and the world’s largest peanut butter factory — Jif, in Lexington, Kentucky — churns out 250,000 jars every day.
Their approach is to use Amazon, increasingly America’s supermarket, and they’re on target to hit USD $1 million in sales this year. Even the shipping method uses a new approach — shipping individual jars in canisters inspired by whiskey cannisters.
“We’re chasing a big opportunity,” Roman says, “There’s a real need to just swallow hard and have a go.”
And that hard work is paying off. A Texas supermarket chain has just picked up their peanut butter.
Roman says they wouldn’t be where they are without their staff, and a key part of their success has been making sure the team comes along the journey with them.
“We’ve invested in things like a decent staff room, and we always share the direction of the business with our team. Our mantra is to make the best nut butters in the world, and our staff have bought into that vision.”
I asked Roman his top tips for running a successful business.
“Keep investing in that research and development and allow your staff to speak up on things they want to try.
“I’d also say to build your brand reputation through ‘surprise and delight’ — go out of your way to surprise the customer in the way they experience your brand.
“And keep in mind that any product in the world can be copied, but your story can’t. So emphasise that story every chance you get.”
And advice for small business owners?
“Cash flow is so important for businesses — don’t overstretch yourself, run lean, and don’t go crazy on ‘business expenses’. The easiest way for the business to make money is to save money.”
Originally published at https://www.knooknz.com on July 4, 2019.