We recently got the chance to speak to Lisa, the lovely founder of Freda’s Peanut Butter, who used her chef training to create a product which filled a gap in the peanut butter market. During our Zoom call, we chatted about everything from New Zealand to broken Kitchen mixers!
When and how did you start the business?
“We had big birthdays in 2016, so we took ourselves off to New Zealand on the holiday of a lifetime. We toured around in a little campervan, which we called Freda … because we were Freda roam through the whole of New Zealand!
“We had a great time, but it was just at that particular time we’d sold a cafe we ran in Mevagissey. I’d gone back to working as a chef and Andrew’s trade is as a plasterer, so he’d gone back to doing that. We were in this little cottage in Mevagissey, and everything was ticking along really nicely. And then we got bored.
“We thought, we need to do something else. you know. So, it was always going to be something foodie, because we’re both really foodie. And in New Zealand, we just loved peanut butter! We usually take it with us when we’re travelling, but because it was long-haul we didn’t have a great luggage allowance. So I thought, ‘I’m not taking five weeks’ worth of peanut butter with me to New Zealand!’, because that would be a lot of peanut butter in our household.
“So we agreed to look for some. I remember sitting down and Googling ‘New Zealand peanut butters’ before we went. We found a couple of brands – this is how obsessed we are with food! And I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have to look these up’. When he found them over there, I think what impressed me the most was they had that artisan, homemade feel.
“In the UK, although I think it’s changing and we’re getting better, at the time there were basically two choices: either the health food market (which is literally just peanuts or maybe with a tiny bit of salt added), and the peanut purists will say that that’s what they want, but to me it’s a little bit dull.
“Or the other end of the spectrum was the sort of supermarket stuff. But that’s palm-oil & refined sugar filled, and really not terribly good for you (even though it might be a bit tastier).
“So I thought – surely there’s got to be a middle point? Why can’t peanut butter not be produced with just the finest ingredients? And I think it deserves a bit more love.
“When we came back, Andrew said, ‘Well, of all the hair-brained schemes you’ve come up with, this one might actually work, you know, give it a go!’.
“So, I started working and experimenting with recipes, and blew up a couple of Kenwood mixers because they weren’t really up to the job! But we got money to produce some peanut butter that we tested out on family and friends, and we started to experiment with flavours as well. And everybody really seemed to like them.
“And that was the idea – that it was just going to be a little sideline for me, a little part time job, maybe go to a few markets, that kind of thing.”
How did it scale up to the business that it is today?
“It just grew. It just started to grow and initially I was literally making it in the kitchen at home. A friend of mine was coming in and putting it into jars, and then we would sit in the afternoon and label them all. We were making like 100 jars a day, and it just seemed enormous!
“And I worked with Oxford Innovations for a little while, as we had them as a mentor. They thought the idea really did have legs and that our aspirations should be much higher. They sort of hold your hand through the process of properly starting up.
“Then we got a Cornish distributor wholesaler, which was great because Cornwall is a big county. So we got some distribution and started to do food festivals, and through word of mouth people got in touch. And it just grew and grew.
“I pushed against the idea of an online shop, because I didn’t want to be that tied. Then COVID came along and the only way that we would’ve survived was by getting the online shop. So we did that really quickly, and it kept us going.
“We’ve taken on two staff this year, so I now have an assistant manager, Yvey, who used to work for us when we had the cafe in Mevagissey. And she’s like a force of nature. She’s so good, and is as excited about it as we are, because she’s been on the journey with us.
“Her and her sister used to work for us. They’re both so heavily invested in it because they’ve been part of the tasting team from the beginning. So they’re really involved. In fact it was China who came up with the name Freda’s!
When did it become your full time job?
“Within a month I quit my cheffing job. I think it was in April that we launched at Porthleven Food Festival. I went out with our mentor from Oxford Innovations, and by May we had enough customers to be able to leave my job and do it full time.
“We really did invest everything in it, and put our heart and soul into it. I went full-time pretty much straight away, and then Andrew was helping part-time. And then he came fully on board at the beginning of last year.
“Then of course with COVID he had to do a bit of plastering in between, because things weren’t quite what we planned. We had no events or food festivals to do. So it was nice that he could go back and do a bit of plastering as it kept our heads above water.
“So it’s all worked out, and it’s getting really busy.
“We visited a couple of farm shops a few weekends ago, and we talked to them a bit, but they were both of exactly the same opinion. They had both decided to scale down their higher end product range, and were selling more run-of-the-mill brands. Because, through COVID, they’d not had any visitors at all.
“So they wanted to wait till the last possible moment before reopening, so they knew that May 17th was definitely on before they started placing orders. And it looks like they’ve kept their word because our wholesaler has placed the biggest order he’s had all year! He said, ‘Oh my god, it’s just gone crazy!’. The last few days have just been absolutely mad. Which is lovely, I’m not complaining!”
How do you distribute Freda’s?
“Well in 2019 it was about 50:50 food festivals and retailers or wholesalers. Then, when COVID came along, it made us realise how vulnerable we were (although who could’ve predicted that?!).
“Just being able to pivot and sell online as quickly as we did was absolutely brilliant, but of course we’re carrying that on now. And until we have a national distribution, when we meet people at food festivals, that’s the way that they can continue to buy from us.
“People are always looking for something new and interesting. People are also moving towards more meat alternatives. Plant-based food is such a big trend at the moment. Plus with things like packaging too, because we use glass jars, eco-friendly packaging and very minimal plastic, I think people appreciate that. And I think we’re fitting in very nicely with the way things are going.
“We’re in about 120 stores in Cornwall and South Devon. This year we’ve picked up about 6 in London, and then others are dotted all over the place.
“There’s only the four of us, and there were only two of us in February, so we are really quite small. We get on really well, it’s a nice little team, which is lovely. I think, perhaps when you get too big, you don’t have that same feeling. We work really well as a team at the moment, and that means a lot.”
What is your inspiration for the flavour profiles?
“It’s all sorts of things. Like I say I’m a foodie, and I guess working as a chef, there’s certain flavour combinations that are quite instinctive – you know what kind of works well. But I’ve tried all sorts of things, and some things don’t work – like really don’t work!
“So peanut butter and banana – a match made in heaven! But you can’t get banana flavour into a peanut butter without using a nasty essence that’s full of E’s and that sort of thing. And dried banana is just not the same as banana – it doesn’t have the same flavour. So it’s just sort of trial and error.
“I’ve got a few other flavours up my sleeve that do work really well, but we’ve got five on the go at the moment. We’ve also got the Winter Fruit and Spice, which we launched last year, and sold so well we’re going to bring it back in October. And I’ve got a couple of others that I think might do well. We’ll launch those in time, I’m sure – we’ll see how it goes!
“The chilli one works so well in spicy foods, Thai curries, satay and that kind of thing, but I put it in when I make a roasted vegetable soup or something like that, I always bung a spoonful of it in. It gives it such a lovely depth of flavour.
“I wouldn’t say there’s one particular place of inspiration, I think it’s just cooking in general – you get to know what kind of works. I try to be innovative. That’d be my top tip for anyone thinking of getting into artisan products – it’s important to come up with something really original.”
Which one’s your most popular flavour?
“The sea salt, funnily enough. The Cornish Sea Salt – and I didn’t invent that! That came about after people said to me, I just love my peanut butter with salt. So I thought, ‘Well, we’ve got the best salt that money can buy on our doorstep’.
“People are addicted, it sells brilliantly!”
What’s your favourite thing to have peanut butter with?
“They all do such a good job on different things. We always eat up the bits that are left over at the end of the day! They come home in half a jar of this, half a jar of that.
“I think you can’t beat it on toast. Just peanut butter on toast with a bit of jam or a bit of banana. It’s so good. And we literally eat it every day. People say that you must be absolutely sick of it by now, but I have porridge every morning, and always have a teaspoon of whatever peanut butter’s going on top of my porridge.”
What are your aspirations for the business’s future?
“Hmmm. Well I would like us to have good national coverage. And by that I mean delis and farm shops. I don’t really want us to be a supermarket brand. When we retire, we’ll sell it to someone and they can go on and do that if they want to. But no, for us, national coverage is the goal.
“I think eventually I would like the role of developing some new products, based around peanut butter as well, because there’s absolutely so much that you can do. There’s lots of things that I would like to make, because I’m a chef at heart.
“It’s been a massive learning curve, and we’ve had to learn really quickly. You know, social media baffles me, and admin baffles me, and Yvey comes in and she just does it in five minutes (it would have taken me all day to do that!). But put me in the kitchen, and I’ll develop all sorts of nice things.
“In the immediate future, I’m just so looking forward to getting back out there and doing the food festivals again and meeting people, because that was what we really loved at the beginning. So it’ll be nice to get to do that again.
“We don’t want to be too huge – that’s not what I’m trying to do. I don’t want to be a multimillionaire (I’m not bothered about that), I just want to be happy, and happy with what we’re making, knowing that we’re making the right thing. As long as people like it, then that suits me.
“It is lovely to support local and shop local, and I think maybe that’s the one thing that’s going to come out of COVID, that people do appreciate the small brands and support local businesses. This year, I think perhaps we’ve had more time to consider what we’re buying, and how it’s made, and the materials that are used. People have been really supporting us. I hope it will stay, and people will continue to have that thought in their minds when they’re shopping.”
You can find out more about Freda’s Peanut Butter via their listing on the Roe River website. This is also the perfect place to treat yourself to a jar or two.