Bruce ‘Pic‘ Picot is incredibly passionate about peanut butter. So much so, he believes it should be in our emergency kits alongside bottled water, shovels and plasters - and I can't say that I disagree.
As a poor and impoverished student, my bi-weekly supermarket shops consist of on-special yoghurt and bulk boxes of Weetbix. However, everyone on a budget has that one thing we allow ourselves to 'splash out' on. For a lot of us, it's those avocado on toast brunches that are preventing us from buying our first house, but for the rest of us, it's a good old jar of Pic's Peanut Butter. Sugar-free, great tasting, doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth and as easy to spread on your morning toast as a hot knife through butter - it's not hard to see why Pic's has such a loyal following of peanut butter lovers.
Founder of this peanut empire, Pic Picot sat down to have a chat with me about why Pic's is the most popular spread in New Zealand and their next steps for taking on the world....and the 'World of Peanut Butter'.
Natalie: Tell us about Pic’s - what do you guys do?
Pic: We make peanut butter and a few other bits and pieces– cashew butter, almond butter, peanut oil, but mostly peanut butter. We are the most popular peanut butter in New Zealand by a very long way but also one of the most expensive. When we started out, people said “you can’t sell peanut butter for $7, you’re mad! It’s just peanut butter!” but somehow we still have such a dedicated following of people who only buy Pic's. It’s really amazing how people have become so passionate about a grocery item.
Natalie: Why peanut butter? Where did the inspiration for Pic’s come from?
Pic: I’ve always loved peanut butter and around 10 years ago, I had just closed a little sailing school so I started making it for myself and my son when I realised they had started putting sugar in it. There never used to be sugar in peanut butter but once America started doing it, it was only a matter of time before New Zealand followed suit. It’s pretty easy actually, just put some roasted peanuts in a blender with a bit of salt – you just have to be prepared for the risk that your blender will blow up!
Natalie: How does Pic’s differentiate itself from other peanut butter businesses?
Pic: It’s very hard to differentiate yourself when your product is just a matter of roasting peanuts, squashing them up and adding a bit of salt. Other peanut butter companies differentiate themselves by adding stuff to their peanut butter like chocolate or chili and whatnot, but we just try and do your good old-fashioned peanut butter as well as we can. We also differentiate ourselves in our relationship with our customers, they are the ones who keep coming back and make our business successful so we just try to be as considerate and respectful of them as we can and hope they love what we do!
Natalie: How have you grown Pic's presence in the market?
Pic: Word of mouth essentially. I’ve tried to avoid advertising - I don’t like people thinking “oh they’ve paid someone to stick this under my nose”. I prefer to get people talking about our peanut butter in other ways – giving them a taste, talking one on one with people, getting out in the community. Chances are they won’t meet too many other peanut butter makers in their lives. If you make them feel a connection with their peanut butter and help them fall in love your product, it’s much more effective when they tell all their friends and family about it rather than having 100 000 people look at an advert and saying “okay but why should I buy this?”. I think if we had advertised a lot, people who loved our product wouldn’t have felt the need to talk about it as much.
Natalie: What are the biggest challenges in the industry you have had to overcome?
Pic: Personally the biggest challenge for me has been going blind, I’ve had to delegate a lot of things I used to be able to do myself and a lot of managers struggle with that because I can’t read a spreadsheet or fix machinery anymore.
We haven’t really had any big challenges in the peanut butter industry. We always knew there would be other little peanut butter companies who would pop up saying, “Pic's are the big naughty multinational”, but we’re not, and we just keep doing what we have been doing. You try things out and whether it works or doesn’t, you learn things along the way. As soon as you stop experimenting and learning, your business starts stagnating.
Natalie: How have you found starting a business in NZ in trying to take your company global?
Pic: Business in New Zealand is pretty easy, it’s a great place to experiment, get a bit of cash flow and experience and then take your product global. I’ve owned a lot of businesses and I think a lot of the problem with New Zealanders starting businesses is their fear of approaching people and pitching ideas and getting funding. I think If you want to start something, and there is a market for it, you just bloody go and do it. You see in countries like China, they have such a big population that they don’t need to export, but with a smaller business in a smaller country like New Zealand, you need to export.
To take your company global, you just have to go overseas. You can’t just sit in New Zealand and try to push your product to other countries. You need to go out into the world to pull it open and talk to people.
The greatest thing that our company has is being from Nelson. Basing yourself in a small town you get a phenomenal amount of support and we would never be where we are if we had started up in a big city, no one would have taken any notice. All our staff are part of the community and everyone in Nelson knows Pic's peanut butter, they all buy it and take it as presents when they leave Nelson.
Natalie: What’s next for Pic's? Do you have plans to grow, expand or diversify?
Pic: Our Next project is the “Pic's World of Peanut Butter” which will be a center that people can come through, make their own peanut butter, see how things work and meet the staff. We want to create such an engaging, mindboggling experience for people who visit it, that it will spread the Pic's family. Our current factory takes tours of around 40 to 50 people a day but we turn twice that amount away and so the new place will accommodate this and hopefully get all those people passionate about peanut butter!
Natalie: If you had to give one piece of advice to an up and coming entrepreneur, what would it be?
Pic: Do something you are really enthusiastic about and feel really good about, because if you are passionate about your product and your reasons for doing it, it will be incredibly infectious and nothing can stand in your way.
Natalie: Pic Picot may very well have been one of the most passionate New Zealanders I have ever met. His genuine enthusiasm for creating good, healthy food for kiwis shines through in the way he talks about his peanut butter and how he talks about the Nelson community. At the end of my interview with Pic, he told me something that was arguably the greatest maxim I have ever heard - “Natalie" he said, "when everything else is falling down around you, a 1-kilo jar of peanut butter will shine like a beacon”. Little did he know, those are words I will likely live my entire life by.