Pic's Peanut Butter
The growth of Pic's Peanut Butter
From very modest beginnings Pic’s “Really Good” Peanut Butter has grown into a large commercial operation processing 2,600 tonnes of peanuts annually into over seven million jars of peanut butter. The award-winning company has developed Peanut Butter World as a popular tourist stop and is now providing a food processing factory for local producers and innovators. The Provincial Growth Development Fund is providing $750,000 for fitting out the facility.
Pic Picot says that he never had any intention of competing with the big processors, he just wanted to make peanut butter to make some money but it “grew and it kind of got out of hand. In 2007 I was semi-retired but I thought for pocket money I could make peanut butter on Friday morning and sell it at the market on Friday afternoon. I started off very modestly with a concrete mixer with a burner underneath to roast the nuts, plus a grinder,” he says.
“I bought online from the first guy I found that would sell me wholesale peanuts. He happened to be Australian, so we started with Australian peanuts. I thought all peanuts were the same, but there proved to be a remarkable quality difference between the Australian nuts and the Chinese nuts.”
Pic kept a lid on production for a while but in time he had a couple of factory helpers and increased to about 1000 jars a week and thought that was good. However, he soon realised that demand was increasing, and he would have to start spending on larger processing machines, a forklift etc. “So I decided to put my retirement fund into the business. I formed an advisory board, leased a factory and went to China and bought machines. That was in 2010,” he says. “After a couple of years in the factory and there were mutterings that we were heading towards outselling the opposition, but I really never had any inclination to take on anybody or to try and be the biggest seller – it just happened.”
The company had leased a new warehouse and fitted that out as a factory and when that was approaching capacity, they had a leaseback built nearby. With two factories operating they ran out of warehousing and office space, so they leased an office and then built a new warehouse on the current site at Sexton Road.
“We were in four different places and it was becoming quite unwieldy, so we brought them all together on one site. Part of the plan was to include a full tour and visitor experience so people could come through and see everything about processing from a viewing gallery upstairs, with interpretive panels and proper scheduled tours,” says Pic. “We opened Peanut Butter World in February 2019. That was an extraordinary experience. On the Thursday we had a function for our suppliers and staff, on Friday we had a black-tie event for ministers and dignitaries etc, and on Saturday we had a public viewing. We had 5,000 people through and many told me afterwards that they were going to come but when they drove past there was such a large crowd and such a long queue and they thought they would come back another time.”
Peanut Butter World has now become one of Nelson's main tourist attractions with four groups of 40 people going through each working day, according to the company’s Global Marketing Manager Nikki Neate. “People appreciate that they can come here and see a food business that is supporting 49 people and their families, and for Nelson this is a big deal. Peanut Butter World has elevated peanut butter from a spread that just sits in your pantry to something with real appeal as well as celebrating good food manufacturing. It's great to see kids get excited about seeing things working,” she says.
“The company has won lots of taste awards, and we don't take those for granted, but the most significant one for us was the 2018 Food Safety Culture Award that was part of the New Zealand Food Awards judged by MPI. The judging criteria were not just about food safety but about the culture within the company so that was a really cool thing to win.”
While the industry has heaped awards on Pics for their product quality, manufacturing and marketing they also have had resounding approval and repeat buying from consumers. The factory now processes over 2600 tonnes of peanuts annually into more than seven million jars of peanut butter, half of which are exported to a dozen countries. Careful control of the peanut butter making process is essential to maintain the desired taste and consistency. Production manager Heath Bowman says that most of the peanuts come in blanched form from Australia, although with the drought reducing supply, they are now sourcing some from Zambia.
“We receive them in 800 kg bags that are hoisted onto a frame, which allows us to open the base of the bag and pour the peanuts into a hopper. From there they go onto an enclosed vacuum conveyor that takes them into the roaster where they are heated at 140° C for 15 to 20 minutes and then fan cooled for 15 to 20 minutes,” he says. “Another enclosed conveyor takes them to big stainless-steel tanks that sit over the top of grinders. After grinding the butter is pumped to a machine that fills four jars at a time. Jars are then capped and labelled, and then packed by hand.
Pallets of glass jars are held in a bulk store where a semiautomatic de-palletiser machine with a large suction pad picks up a whole layer of glasses and puts them onto a conveyor that feeds through a rinser and out onto the production line ready for filling. There are four production lines: two for glass, one for plastic containers, small glass jars and pails, and the last does sachets. Not all are running at any one time.
Four times a day a party of 40 visitors tours the facility watching the butter making process from an observation area. Nikki says that as well as showing people how their favourite spread is made, the hope is that some of the visitors will be inspired to develop their own food products. To help them do that the company has provided the adjacent Nelson Food Factory, which is to be fitted out with equipment courtesy of a $750,000 grant from the Government’s Provincial Growth. Pic Picot has been a driving force behind this venture, says Nikki.
“He has brought his experience of co-operative ventures from the 70s and has applied it here. Within the company there is a wealth of knowledge of manufacturing, marketing and management of a business, along with engineering, packaging, food safety etc,” she says. “If someone has a problem or a new product and they want to do some testing, they can use the facility and we can expose them to an audience, help develop and sell their product at the Nelson market, go back to the factory and tweak it, and so on. The beauty of living in a small, dynamic community like Nelson is that we have an ecosystem that has fostered the development of a new range of food products. The Nelson Tasman Innovation Neighbourhood is bringing food, HR, tech, the Cawthron Institute and the regional development agency together with the likes of King Salmon to look at what we can do for the region, and the Nelson Food Factory is an integral part of that.”
Showdown Productions Ltd - Rural Delivery Series 15 2020