Nowadays, grocery shopping isn't as easy as picking-and-choosing your favorite items. In fact, it has become somewhat of a moral debate! Making sure your breads and snacks are whole-grain, produce not sprayed with harsh pesticides, and animal products not treated with antibiotics and hormones can be quite a chore without good research. Not to mention confusing marketing and branding that make products appear to be small business that aren't. Take Burt's Bees for example, which are actually owned by The Clorox Company. Learn more here.
However, thanks to picky consumers, natural markets and even chain grocers, there is now a wide variety of healthy, local alternatives to the Wonder Bread generation of foods. Supporting independent businesses as they make their way into the supermarket scene is fueling a new economy of products with ingredients you can trust.
One of these trustworthy brands is Pacific Beach Peanut Butter of San Diego, a company founded by Matthew Mulvihill, his mom, and grandpa. Sold online and at Whole Foods in San Diego County, PB PB is filling people up one spoon at a time! I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew about his story and approach to a successful business. Here's what he has to say!
1. How and when did you start making and selling your peanut butter?
It all began on my couch in Reno, NV. I was working 40 hours a week at the time at a "real job," which didn't really give me much personal satisfaction. On this particular day, I was out of bread, peanut butter, and jelly, so I couldn't make my favorite sandwich for lunch. I searched online where I could buy a PB&J and nothing existed. And that's where my business ideas ran wild, I found a gap in the market. I thought if I could figure out how to make peanut butter with just peanuts - no extra oil, salt, sugar - I could sell fresh, handmade PB&J sandwiches to order on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, where I lived right after college. After experimenting for 6 months at my parents house in Indiana, I perfected a series of recipes and fell so in love with the peanut butter that an investor recommended we first sell just the PB at farmer's markets to give it a shot before opening a sandwich stand. The business launched in December 2010, but not to sell the whole sandwiches. The jars sold, so we kept selling! We are still at the Little Italy farmer's market on Saturdays.
2. What was your business approach?
My mom is a fantastic business professional, more like a business badass, and she agreed to collaborate with me via email to draft a business plan while I continued to work 40 hours a week. I told my best friend about the idea, and she mentioned it to her doctor, a San Diego native, who wanted to be an investor as soon as the business was ready. My grandfather is a retired executive who also wanted to be an investor. He bought my first peanut grinder. After three months of selling at the farmers markets, we decided to keep it a family business.
3. Tell me a little bit about how you got into Whole Foods.
I actually wish I had better advice for other small businesses, but we really weren't trying at the time. Whole Foods reps actually found us at the farmer's market! They truly are local first. Even being such a big chain, Whole Foods allows local businesses like us to come in and compete on the shelf. Especially in San Diego, where there are so many craft, handmade products, and anything goes!
4. What are the health benefits of your product vs. other PB's on the shelf?
It's time that things taste like what they actually are. Our peanut butter actually tastes like peanuts! Other big brands fill theirs with hydrogenated oils, shortening, sugar, salt or flavored oil extracts. We like to use the hard ingredients - so our white chocolate & PB blend is hand mixed and ground together without anything else added - just white chocolate, and peanuts, which actually makes it lower in calories than other competitor's because there's no extra flavored oils added. This is really important to us for each of our different jars. Just keep it simple.
5. Moving forward, where do you see the company going from here?
Definitely expanding our flavors - the next one to come out is a coconut almond spread - as well as the availability of the product. Although you can buy online, I want to reach more specialty shops in California and eventually around the county. We have distribution in the works right now, so we are hoping to reach out to Whole Foods across the country! We plan to do that by continuing how we started, with simple ingredients, and a well-made product. The peanut butter is also used in Stone World Bistro & Brewery and Jonny V's.
6. LAST and quite possibly most importantly, what is your favorite flavor!?
"Our Signature" - it's got a toffee crunch texture. Mmmmm.
If we can take a few lessons out of this business, it would be these.
- Keep it simple. Stay true to your product.
- Don't be stubborn. Go with the flow of your product, even if it's not your original plan.
- Think like a critical consumer with plenty of options on the shelf.
Until next time,
This is part of our series Small Business Spotlight. Read more here.