PORTLAND, Ore. — Many start-up companies need investors. They dream of pitching an idea on ABC’s hit show, Shark Tank. Two University of Oregon students took a chance, their on-line product now available in grocery stores nationwide.
Behold the power of peanut butter. Creamy or chunky and packed with protein. It sticks to the roof of your mouth. For Keeley Tillotson and Erika Welsh, it stuck all right.
“We used to eat peanut butter all the time on everything,” said Erika Welsh.
Peanut butter is what brought them to downtown Portland, to an office on the top floor. Headquarters of Wild Friends Foods.
“Our picture is going to be all over the food stores,” said Welsh.
Their banner will soon be featured at Whole Foods Markets in the Portland area. To think it all happened by chance.
In 2011 both were sophomores at University of Oregon. On a rainy Sunday in January.
“We ran out of peanut butter. We had a bag of peanuts in our apartment and made our first batch,” Keeley Tillotson said.
By chance Welsh had received a Cuisinart for Christmas. They started blending, adding fun ingredients, and blending some more. The concoction tasted so fresh and good they had to share it with friends.
“And they loved it and they told us we should sell this at farmers markets and street fairs,” Tillotson said.
The Eugene-Springfield area provided the perfect launch pad.
“We had a website the first day and started selling product within 24 hours of inventing our flavors. Selling at street fairs and then came the big break.”
April 2011 food blogger Kath Younger wrote up an article which led to hundreds of on-line orders. The next month, a write up in Oprah’s O magazine, how to change your life at any age. Just 18 and 19 at the time, they were doing it.
They secured a meeting with the CEO of New Seasons Stores in Portland who told them she would sell the peanut butter when it was ready.
In fall 2011, it arrived. Market of Choice first to make room on store shelves.
Kiva Grocery Store also made a spot.
“It was something quite different than anything we had in terms of nut butter,” said employee Tom Kay, Kiva Grocery Store.
From homemade to hiring a packing business to fulfill orders. Family and friends invested $50,000, but they needed more to grow.
“Shark tank was actually my dad’s idea.”
They went in asking for $50,000 for a 10 percent stake in the company. They went in prepared to sell.
“It doesn’t matter what you say in there. It’s ultimately our company. It’s another opportunity. It’s not the end of the world. It got heated.”
Sold. But after their Shark Tank appearance the deal fell through; however, it didn’t stop their success.
“Looking back we say it was the best thing that happened to us, just the amount of exposure we got from being on Shark Tank.”
Their products are now on the shelves at 13 New Seasons. Packets and jars.
Since their launch there have been some changes. Wild Squirrel Nut Butter, now Wild Friends Foods, a name that allows them to grow their line.
They produce six nut butters; four peanut and two almond. Their number one seller: chocolate coconut peanut butter. New this month, three sunflower seed butters for anyone with allergies. All their products certified GMO free.
Another change the jar design, allowing for larger labels.
“We have really good shelf presence here.”
They left college to pursue a real life lesson and their business venture is paying off. From online, to more than 2,000 stores nationwide.
Tillotson and Welsh have big hopes for the future. More products, more stores and more people enjoying Wild Friends Foods.