BY ANN BROWN
More than 290 million Americans eat peanut butter on a regular basis. And according to the latest stats, peanut butter dollar sales in the U.S. increased to $1.82 billion in 2015. Sounds like a get industry to get into.
Still, when Philadelphia-based high school health teacher Megan Gibson decided to jump into the fray, some questioned the decision. Gibson decided to launch a nut butter company called PB&Jams. The small-batch fresh nut-butter company specializes in all different kinds of nut butters, from almond to peanut.
It all started when Gibson tasted spiced Haitian peanut butter. It inspired here to start trying to make her own nut blends at home. Friends and family loved her recipes so Gibson decided to branch out by heading to farmers’ markets and local events to sell her “Hot or Not” Haitian-inspired peanut butter, maple-walnut butter and dark-chocolate almond butter, and other specialty nut butters. Gibson sold some 120 jars, which cost up to $10 each. This was 2013. By 2015, she opened a food cart.
Gibson tells TNJ.com how she grew her unique business.
TNJ.com: How did you fund the startup?
Megan Gibson: I bootstrapped the first $15k and then received a KIVA ZIP loan for $5k. The KIVA ZIP loan is a crowd-sourced loan that carries 0% interest and a two-year repayment period.
TNJ.com: Now, smoky, spiced Haitian peanut butter is not the typical peanut butter. What were some initial thoughts of customers?
Megan Gibson: Our “Hot or Not PB” is inspired by Haitian peanut butter, but does not have the same upfront heat that Haitian peanut butter has. I wanted to create something that would appeal to more palates and in doing so “Hot or Not PB” has what customers call a “slow burn.” I’ve found that customers who are adventurous enough to try it, tend to LOVE it! It’s a very versatile butter in that it can be used in the “traditional” peanut butter ways AND it’s a great butter to cook with.
TNJ.com: What were some of the challenges of going from a high school health and physical education teacher to entrepreneur?
Megan Gibson: My primary challenge is time because I’m still teaching. People often ask how am I doing both, and my usual response is “God’s Grace!” I’ve learned to prioritize tasks and ideas along with having great people join the PB&JAMS team. Also, I had to learn (and am still learning) a lot about running a business on the fly and in the midst of working.
TNJ.com: What were some of your initial challenges to get people to understand the concept?
Megan Gibson: So there were two challenges: 1) How to get people to try a new product (PB) that they already have preconceived ideas about? Answer–Put a spoon in their hand so they could taste it! 2) How do I let people know that PB and other nut butters are good for more than just pb&j sandwiches? Answer–build a food truck and create a menu that incorporates tastes and flavors from the U.S. and beyond!
TNJ.com: When did you know it would be a hit?
Megan Gibson: I still see PB&JAMS PHL as a hit-in-the-making, but I knew that I had something that could grow the first time I took my nut butters out to sell to the public and sold out including selling some of the sample jars!
TNJ.com: Tell me more about the music and the educational and philanthropic components of your business?
Megan Gibson: I’ve been a Health/PE teacher since 2000 so working with children and seeing their challenges and their gifts for 17 years has been the motivation for the philanthropic component of PB&JAMS.
When I started this business, I prayed that if this thing takes off that I would be able to use it to help young people. So we have supported a number of local organizations and put together a school supply drive to benefit Team Up Philly and a local elementary school. This year, we will add B.U.I.L.D–Brothers United In Leadership Development to the list of organizations we support. And 10-20 percent of every catering gig we book is directly donated to a local organization.
As far as the music goes, I used to collect records, then I sold records, and one of my customers (who became a friend) asked me if I ever considered DJing. I said “No” and he said “you should! I’ll teach you!” Going through my record collection, there was so much great music, but it wasn’t what you would hear when you went out. So from the beginning, I wanted to play music that people would love, but weren’t always expecting to hear! The late nights associated with DJing weren’t going to mesh with my teaching schedule forever, so I transitioned to another passion–food! My grandmother was a fantastic cook and a foodpreneur in her own right. So I think it was a natural fit!
TNJ.com: What’s next for your business?
Megan Gibson: 1. Finding a partner to grow the wholesale/retail side of the business. 2. Increasing our catering events so we can continue to sow into local non-profit organizations.
TNJ.com: What are your long-term goals?
Megan Gibson: Our motto is: “Feed People, Help People, and Have Fun.” So my goal is for PB&JAMS PHL the brand to live into that, whether it is on a large scale (products being sold in stores around the country) or on a more local scale (partnering with the SIXERS, local universities, opening a second food truck, etc).
TNJ.com: What has been your biggest surprise since starting the business?
Megan Gibson: The genuine excitement that I see on people’s faces when they try our food! It’s what keeps me going.