You’ve probably seen Fatso at your local grocery store. This locally made peanut butter brand is rapidly growing across North America. Jill Van Gyn is the woman behind the peanut butter. Her journey to entrepreneurial success represents a remarkable story of resilience. We caught up with Jill to hear how she grew Fatso into an international phenomenon.
From Worker to CEO
I came to entrepreneurship late. I completed a Master’s Degree aged 35 and found myself woefully unemployed. I took a job running a health food franchise and Fatso Peanut Butter was one of the products we sold. I had seen it on a couple of shelves around town but it didn’t seem to be making much of an impact.
I had a real belief in the concept and I had reached out to the owners previously offering help with social media, marketing – anything they’d let me do really. The opportunity came up to purchase the brand. I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I offered a small sum of money for the recipe and their assets, the name and the concept. That’s how, four years ago, I found myself as the owner of a piece of paper, a couple of recipes and a brand name. It dawned on me then I had no option but to make this work.
Learning on the Job
Luckily, thanks to my graduate school experience I have a really strong research background. In those early days, it lent itself really well to a business startup. I did all those things people do at this point, I began making phone calls, looking for advice, Google searching ‘how to start a business’ and really immersed myself in learning what I needed to do. It was this three-month intensive process of learning how to launch a business.
It was around then I also took the opportunity to dig into the recipes and try to make them my own. I found someone in the nutrition field who really optimized it for me and that’s when I ran into some challenges.
More Peanut Butter, More Problems
I discovered quickly that packaged food is a whole different animal in the business world with a unique set of problems. It’s not a service or a software, it’s going directly into customer’s hands and it needs to be a high quality, uniform experience.
Peanut butter is an extremely complicated product. First of all, it’s really messy. Second, it requires special handling. I knew I needed larger scale because if I was going to run with this, I was going to run hard. I sourced a co-packer in Vancouver and we started there. My first batch came in at 8,000lbs of Fatso but the recipe was wrong. It wasn’t up to standard. That was the first big lesson I learned, and I learned it the hard way. Building strong working relationships with reliable partners is vital to the success of a business.
Finding Your Niche
Once everything was sorted on the recipe side, I spent some time really digging into why Fatso is market ready. I asked myself, ‘why would people buy my product?’ I learned a few key things at this point.
The market for peanut butter is divided a couple of ways. You’ve got the big, mass-produced brands like Skippy and Jif. They come in on the cheap end of things but they’re full of palm oil and sugar. On the more premium end of the market, you have products with almond and cashew butter and they retail for $15 to $20 a jar. That’s just inaccessible for a lot of people.
I saw this giant gap in the middle that wasn’t being served. People wanted a peanut butter that was high quality, tasted amazing and wasn’t going to empty their wallet. That’s the gap I sought to exploit.
I often go back to that thought. I know that same gap exists in other areas and we’re working on creating products to fill those gaps. Stay tuned on that one!
I’ve learned if you focus deeply on the ‘why’ and you work hard to get your product into people’s hands – they’ll follow you.
Do it Yourself
I believed so deeply in this product I knew if people tasted it, they would buy it. I needed to find a way to get as many people to taste it as possible. Those first few years, I was my own distributor, my own broker, I did all my own sales and all my own logistics. I would pack up my car, 73 cases of Fatso (which is the amount I could fit in the car), drive to Vancouver and deliver my goods.
I would also demo everywhere I could, every weekend, both days for two years. I would do that in Victoria, in Duncan, Nanaimo, Vancouver, Squamish and all the areas of Greater Vancouver.
This achieved a two-fold effect. One, was people followed the peanut butter and the concept and they loved it. Two, they followed me. Those two things together has really helped Fatso to where it is today.
Here to Help
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