How a 15-year-old launched her own nut butter company
Abby Kircher's quest for a healthy snack turned into a business that is spreading
At an age when many young people are still having their lunches packed by their parents, 15-year-old Abby Kircher launched a nut butter company out of her North Carolina kitchen.
Now sold in 40 retail locations across North Carolina and Tennessee, Abby’s Better Nut Butter was born when Abby began searching for healthier alternatives to peanut butter, her favorite snack indulgence.
“Most peanut butters have a lot of sugars and peanut oils, and I wanted to find something more natural,” the now 17-year-old homeschooled teen said. “But at the same time, I just found it [almond butter] bland and boring… I wanted something that was healthy but still has flavor.”
Disappointed by her in-store options, Abby decided to experiment with her favorite nuts, natural sweeteners and the family food processor, hoping to create a nut butter that met her standards for both nutrition and taste.
“I started coming up with these flavors and when I shared them with friends and family they all adored them,” Abby said. “The ones who didn’t usually eat healthy couldn’t believe that these [nut butters] tasted so good while being so pure.”
That’s when an idea began to take shape. Abby could take her nut butters from her kitchen to store shelves, providing consumers like her with natural, tasty peanut butter substitutes.
“People are looking for healthy alternatives for the foods they eat, so right now is the perfect time for something like this,” Abby said.
With the encouragement of her mother, Anna Kircher, Abby began to sell her specialty nut butters at local farmers markets. The pair brought 20 jars to their first event, hoping to sell five. They sold out within the first few hours.
“The next Saturday we brought 40 and sold out,” Kircher said. “I think that’s when we we started going, ‘Hmmm, this may be a little bit bigger than we thought.' ”
To keep up with demand, and because the state of North Carolina doesn’t allow residents to operate food-related businesses out of homes with pets (the Kirchers own a dog), Abby and her mother rented a private commercial kitchen in Morrisville, NC to produce the nut butter.
“One of the biggest challenges we had initially was how to process larger amounts of the nut butters, and so going from our small food processor was a pretty lengthy step. We asked ourselves, ‘How are we going to do up to 3,000 [jars] a day eventually?' ” Kircher said.
“So that was a huge trial and error of ordering these thousand dollar machines and bringing them in, seeing how they worked and sending them back," Kircher said.
The two currently carry out every step of the process, from roasting and mixing to labeling, sealing and food delivery. Each peanut-free, gluten-free spread is made by hand with only five ingredients per jar.
Flavors include bourbon maple walnut, coffee almond, strawberry cashew, coconut cashew, honey almond and date pecan.
“People say, ‘Abby, did your mom help you a little bit with these recipes?’ and the truth is I did not even a little bit,” Kircher said. “She’s just brilliant in the kitchen — I don’t know how she comes up with this stuff.”
“The ingredients haven’t changed at all [since the transition]. Pretty much from the start we’ve known what ingredients we want in the butter and we’ve kept it that way,” Abby said.
The company’s growing success could make it difficult to maintain this personal production style much longer. Still, Abby and Kircher hope to continue it.
“We would like to keep making it in small batches as long as we can and do our own manufacturing, and then of course eventually we’ll have to go with a co-packer,” Kircher said. “But we really want to hang on to that aspect for as long as we can.”
A wise investment
Abby’s Better Nut Butter was recently approved to be sold chain-wide at Earth Fare, an organic supermarket in the Southeast and Midwest.
“We’re getting a lot of media locally right now,” Kircher said. “We just got back from Natural Foods Expo East and got just a tremendous amount of interest from that.”
The Kirchers initially put $9,000 into their daughter’s passion project and recently received fundraising help from family and friends. Since then, Kircher said, the company has largely paid for itself.
“Sales are great. We did the numbers about two weeks ago… we’ve sold 7,400 jars in one year for a total sales of $79,000,” she said. “And that was with zero PR — we have a PR team now, but that was from just hittin’ the pavement.”
Kircher also feels that Abby’s Better Nut Butter sales are doing better than competitor brands.
Abby attributes the brand’s success to her unique flavors and the integrity of the ingredients used.
“Most nut butters are either almond or peanut or both. We have cashew butters and pecan butters that people find very interesting,” Abby said. “Also the purity of the butters are very unique. ...The only oil used is coconut oil and the sweeteners we use are fruit or honey. Most of the nut butter products on the market…use peanut oils because they make it cheaper to make, and then people with peanut allergies can’t eat them.”
Abby hopes to establish a strong regional presence in the next six months and then try to take the brand national.
“We definitely want to scale up… so that the brand become nationally known as a healthy product that you can have in your home,” Abby said.
From there, the dream is to expand the label to other healthy products, establishing the “Abby’s Better” brand as a true clean label food powerhouse.
“People would know that the label means something,” Kircher said. “She’s got a couple of big surprises coming up...some candy that’s the healthiest that’s ever been out there.”
“Abby’s Better products could be the next household healthy brand that everyone has in their homes. Children can eat it and everyone can enjoy it, but at the same time it’s a product that is very pure and very healthy,” Abby said.
As for Abby’s future, the teenager hopes to pursue business in college so she can take further ownership of company operations.
“I want to stick with the company and take it as far as it can go, and I’m willing to do whatever I have to get there,” Abby said. “No matter how long it takes, I’m in this full throttle.”
Abby said that she hopes her products will change the food industry for the better, and encourages other young people with food industry aspirations to go for it.
“Patience is something that I have to learn every day. It’s so important to know that it [success] isn’t going to come overnight; it takes time and it takes learning and ultimately, you’re going to make mistakes,” Abby said. “But keep pushing through and stay confident. If you have something that makes you happy and that you want to share, share it.”
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