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New backpacks, supplies and outfits for the first day of school are “musts” when kicking off the school year. But the team at Fayetteville, Arkansas-based Natural Way Food Group might argue that the best back-to-school experience is synonymous with August and peanut butter.
Austin Simkins and his brother, Quinn live with an entrepreneurial mindset. After a family vacation visit to the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory in Colorado, Austin was mesmerized by the making of natural food products. He knew someday he wanted to produce and manufacture a product.
While working on his MBA in Supply Chain Management, Austin connected with a class speaker. Jeff Amerine from Startup Junkie, also in Fayetteville, shared the company’s support for entrepreneurs and connection to government grant programs. Austin interned with the program and gained experience by attending meetings: learning everything from building business plans, pitching products and setting up local manufacturing. While he saw the struggles, he was still intrigued to start his own business.
Simultaneously, Quinn was interning for Tyson Foods in mergers and acquisitions. With a background and experience in accounting and finance, and as he learned more about corporate company procedures, the two were the perfect complement for trying a new idea.
The first product the brothers sold together was a gourmet peanut butter cup called Poppers. “It was something I took to parties or events, and people always told me I should sell them. It just seemed like the obvious first choice.” People loved the treats and local in-person customers would purchase them over and over.
A second product, Chirpies, expanded at first by using a dehydrated cricket powder for added protein. The healthy candy saw some success with placement in 250 Walmart stores, but the face-to-face farmer’s market consumer just couldn’t get over the word “cricket.”
Growing up as runners, eating a wad of peanut butter for a quick protein recharge was a common practice for the Simkins brothers. As they worked on products and researched the ingredients they were using, redeveloping peanut butter seemed like the next best move.
Creating a healthier version of something already in their lifestyle seemed natural.
Many shelf-stable peanut butters use palm oil. The brothers found that palms are farmed mainly around the equator and, in production, are destroying the rainforest. Because they value sustainable products, they opted for a more easily accessible olive oil, like their mom used in her kitchen as they grew up. A familiar flavor for customers, the olive oil-based product took off.
Switching from candy to nut butter was a significant change, but with an agile mindset that easily pivots as the solution to their lack of experience, they built new relationships with buyers and relied on the clout of already having a successful product in the market. They could use learned experiences to save time and not make the same mistake twice.
Natural Way peanut butter products are made with olive oil and little to no added sugar. They are non-GMO verified, and gluten-free certified. The product has a “smudgy” texture, helping you feel like you are eating a more natural product. All ingredients are sourced in the United States, and all manufacturing and production occur in Fayetteville, the Simkins’ hometown.
Photo used with permission from Natural Way food group
Learn more about Natural Way peanut butter, its philosophy, history, and order products online.
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