THE WILLY WONKA OF NUTS

SE­RIAL EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR PIC PICOT HAS LEARNED THAT NOTH­ING PAYS BET­TER THAN PEANUTS

NZ Life & Leisure - - Contents -

Pic Picot has learned

that noth­ing pays bet­ter than peanuts

THE FU­TURE OF Pic’s Re­ally Good Peanut But­ter lies be­hind a wire se­cu­rity fence on a dusty con­struc­tion site out­side of Nel­son. It doesn’t look promis­ing but the com­pany’s owner Pic Picot is a man with big plans and it’s clear he can see what others can­not. The con­crete slab walls and steel fram­ing that take up part of the site mark the small be­gin­nings of a fac­tory com­plex ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing more than $50 mil­lion worth of peanut, cashew and al­mond but­ter a year.

It will be his fifth fac­tory in a decade. His first was a garage fit­ted out with a con­crete mixer and bench-top grinder. He made 400 jars in that first year, now he turns out 3.5 mil­lion. His com­pany has won nu­mer­ous food and busi­ness awards (it’s twice made Deloitte’s Fast 50 in­dex of fastest grow­ing com­pa­nies) but for con­crete ev­i­dence of his achieve­ment noth­ing beats a visit to his con­struc­tion site in Stoke.

Pic Picot is fully im­mersed in the pro­ject. He’s an ideas man; a cre­ative type who ex­udes en­thu­si­asm from the soles of his stylish sneak­ers to the tips of his af­fa­ble whiskers. Which is to say, he does a fine job of draw­ing plans in the air while pac­ing the bound­ary fence of his fu­ture.

Pic’s World of Peanut But­ter will be more than a fac­tory. Think at­trac­tive land­scap­ing with plenty of car parks, sunny of­fices, an enor­mous ware­house and a high-speed pro­duc­tion line with a view­ing gallery from which vis­i­tors can see peanuts be­ing freshly roasted and lov­ingly squished into jars – just as it says on the la­bel.

There’s no se­cret to mak­ing good peanut but­ter. It’s all about the qual­ity of the nuts, the fresh­ness of the roast, the warmth of the grind and the fact that noth­ing is added (ex­cept a smidgeon of salt when it’s called for).

It’s a good story – and very vis­ual – which is why the Willy Wonka of nuts has al­ways wel­comed vis­i­tors. “When we first started the fac­tory tours, the [pro­duc­tion] boss said, ‘Oh we can’t have that. They’ll see how we make ev­ery­thing and peo­ple will rush off and start peanut but­ter fac­to­ries.’ But we’re well ahead. Some­one would be tak­ing a real risk to set up some­thing our size in New Zealand.”

His own strat­egy has been growth by stealth. It seems the com­pe­ti­tion never saw the min­now ap­proach­ing. Who would have thought an ar­ti­san spread made in Nel­son could chal­lenge the dom­i­nance of main­stream brands like ETA and Kraft? And yet Pic’s Peanut But­ter, which is 50 per cent more ex­pen­sive, is now New Zealand’s num­ber one brand in the cat­e­gory by value. Not only has the whole cat­e­gory grown as a re­sult but Pic’s range has led the trend to­wards healthy nut but­ters: those with no emul­si­fiers, re­duced salt and no added sugar.

The busi­ness has been prof­itable since day one and grown steadily since Pic tipped his re­tire­ment fund into what was orig­i­nally a hobby. To­tal rev­enue for all prod­ucts is now about $15 mil­lion in­clud­ing ex­ports, which ac­count for 30 per cent of pro­duc­tion.

He reels off the fig­ures and then stops in mid-flight. “I’m amazed at how much we sell. In New Zealand our sales grew 25 per cent last year. I would never have be­lieved peo­ple could get so pas­sion­ate about a gro­cery item.”

Pic grew up along­side the gro­cery busi­ness – his fam­ily es­tab­lished Pro­gres­sive Enterprises – but Pic found it all “in­cred­i­bly bor­ing”. De­ter­mined to do any­thing but gro­ceries he em­barked on an ar­chi­tec­ture de­gree, fell asleep in lec­tures, failed his ex­ams then started a se­ries of small busi­nesses, none of which did par­tic­u­larly well. In be­tween times he built a boat, sailed the Pa­cific and gen­er­ally es­tab­lished him­self as the black sheep of the fam­ily, be­fore re­deem­ing him­self with peanut but­ter, about which he is now very pas­sion­ate.

And he’s de­lighted to be back in the fold. “My sis­ter said to me, ‘Oh my good­ness. If your Un­cle Peter and Un­cle Bruce could see where you are now they would take back ev­ery­thing they ever said about you.’”

Through it all – good and bad – he’s been driven by a “ter­ror of be­ing bor­ing”. That ex­plains the ran­dom pic­tures of lawn­mow­ers, chick­ens and the like that ap­pear on the Pic’s la­bels. Don’t look for mean­ing, he’s sim­ply flip­ping the bird at all the bar­codes, nu­tri­tion boxes and batch num­bers that make con­ven­tional la­bels so bor­ing. Shun­ning copy­writ­ers (very bor­ing), he fills up the space him­self and then he sneaks a bit of po­etry un­der­neath. “Not ev­ery­one knows that, the poems go out as a nice sort of ex­tra sur­prise.”

It all con­trib­utes to a very ef­fec­tive means of en­gage­ment with his fan base of peanut but­ter eaters. “Peo­ple love us,” he says, and he is grate­ful. ‘Ask for us in your lo­cal store,’ he writes on the la­bel, and they do. “Those su­per­mar­ket guys don’t have to lis­ten to ev­ery smarty pants sales­man that comes along but they do have to lis­ten to their cus­tomers.”

It’s clever and it works be­cause the prod­uct re­ally is good and the brand is warm and per­son­able, just like the man whose name leaps off the jar. Pic and the brand are in­sep­a­ra­ble and that makes him per­fectly suited to his cur­rent role of brand am­bas­sador.

He wouldn’t have cho­sen that po­si­tion – and he in­sists it’s not a move to­wards re­tire­ment – but his eye­sight is fail­ing (the re­sult of mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion) and he’s had to del­e­gate. True to form he says it’s

been a pos­i­tive thing for both him and the busi­ness. “If I could see [prop­erly], I’d be fix­ing the ma­chines, set­ting up soft­ware. I’d be rid­ing ev­ery­one, look­ing over their shoul­ders and mi­cro-man­ag­ing stuff. This means I get out and do the stuff that I’m re­ally good at and that I re­ally, re­ally like – meet­ing peo­ple and talk­ing about peanut but­ter.”

He does much more than that. The snack-sized tubes of peanut but­ter called Slugs are his in­ven­tion, along with an­other prod­uct not yet re­leased. He’s over­see­ing the new fac­tory pro­ject (stage one will be com­pleted early this year) and when he talks about meet­ing and talk­ing, he re­ally means sales and mar­ket­ing.

In all this his guide dog Fido aids him. Charged with keep­ing his mas­ter on the straight and nar­row, the sleek black lab has be­come very much part of the busi­ness. “You don’t for­get the peanut but­ter guy who turns up with a dog,” says Pic. And he keeps things in­ter­est­ing. “It’s won­der­ful at awards and din­ners and flash con­fer­ences when you walk in with a dog and he sits un­der the ta­ble and comes out for a bit of a scratch – it brings ev­ery­body down to earth when th­ese things can be ter­ri­bly pompous.” Think be­yond the spread. Add a ta­ble­spoon of peanut but­ter to soups, stews, cur­ries and dress­ings to give a nutty and creamy flavour that is dairy-free and punches up the pro­tein. Pimp up the clas­sic burger by adding Pic’s to the patty and top­ping it off with a nutty rel­ish.

PIC’ S PEANUT BUT­TER BURG­ERS

1kg pre­mium beef mince 1 white onion, finely diced 2 ta­ble­spoons Pic’s Re­ally Good

Peanut But­ter, smooth salt and pep­per to taste oil to cook 8 burger buns, spilt let­tuce leaves dill pick­les 200g blue cheese

Add the burger in­gre­di­ents to a bowl and use your hands to com­bine well. Form into 8 good-size pat­ties and put an in­dent in the cen­tre with your thumb to stop curling and help cook­ing times.

Chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. Cook on a bar­be­cue hot­plate or hot fry pan for 3 min­utes each side

Grab a bun of your choice, add the pat­tie, plenty of salad, pick­les, a wedge of lo­cal creamy blue cheese and top with Pic’s Spicy Peanut Rel­ish. Makes: 8 burg­ers

PIC ’ S SPICY PEANUT REL­ISH

Cre­ated for Pic’s by Hop­good’s Restau­rant in Nel­son, this rel­ish is an ideal ac­com­pa­ni­ment to any roast meat, fish or veg­eta­bles. 2 ta­ble­spoons red curry paste 5 gar­lic cloves 2 ta­ble­spoons Pic’s Re­ally Good

Peanut But­ter, crunchy 1 ta­ble­spoon shrimp paste 1 ta­ble­spoon palm sugar 1 ta­ble­spoon tamarind paste 2 ta­ble­spoons thai fi sh sauce 2 ta­ble­spoons Pic’s Cold Pressed Ex­tra

Vir­gin Peanut Oil ½ cup peanuts, roasted and roughly

chopped

In a mor­tar and pes­tle make a paste by pound­ing the curry paste, gar­lic, peanut but­ter and shrimp paste un­til smooth. Add the palm sugar, tamarind paste and fish sauce.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the paste and fry over a low heat un­til lightly golden and fra­grant (about 5 min­utes). Add peanuts and serve warm.

Choco­late Peanut But­ter Cook­ies with Salted Date Fill­ing. See thisnzlife. co. nz for recipe.

Pic’s nuts Pic’s Re­ally Good Peanut But­ter proudly claims to be made from peanuts grown in Aus­tralia and pro­cessed in New Zealand, thus sat­is­fy­ing the “buy lo­cal” sen­si­bil­i­ties of both mar­kets and mak­ing Aus­tralia Pic’s largest ex­port mar­ket. This year the com­pany will be “squish­ing” 1500 tonnes of nuts, sourced from grow­ers in Queens­land who spe­cial­ize in hi- oleic peanuts. Named for their par­tic­u­larly high lev­els of choles­terol- friendly fatty acids, th­ese nuts also have added pro­tec­tion from ran­cid­ity so they re­tain their fresh taste for much longer than other va­ri­eties. Pic’s Peanut But­ter Burg­ers with Pic’s Spicy Peanut Rel­ish.

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