Stuart and Kathryn Franklin
Mike Hughes plans his next sandwich, while talking to peanut butter producer Kathryn Franklin.
Do you fancy some soft white bread, piled so deeply with peanut butter that each sandwich looks like an over-stuffed pillow? Or how about hot-buttered toast with the peanut butter drizzling out so that you can almost form a “toast funnel” and just pour the stuff straight in…?
Sorry about that – peanut butter does strange things to me. It is one of life’s great treats and was enough to bring Kathryn Franklin and her husband, Stuart, back here from New Zealand to make their own at Dewsbury.
Proper Nutty’s product is made with specially-sourced peanuts and slow roasted to bring out an intense flavour, before being ground into its unique texture that is a combination of smooth and crunchy known, of course, as “smunchy”. This enterprising couple have already launched one food revolution on the other side of the world and are making the same waves at the Bretton Street Enterprise Centre.
“I think I was always going to do something around food, perhaps in the catering industry,” says Franklin. “I ended up doing a degree looking at nutrition, but I didn’t fancy being a dietician so moved into the industry, working in the technology side of product development.
“We lived in New Zealand for eight years and did corporate jobs for a little while, but then moved to the South Island and became the first people in the country to make hand-cooked crisps. New Zealand is a good place to start a new business because there is a good mentality of people having a go at things, in an artisan culture.
“We were contributing to the local economy in a rural area and created a few jobs, so they were very accepting of us there and we made heaps of friends. That business went like a train and grew really quickly to the point where it needed a lot of capital for the third phase of equipment and so we sold it.
“Then on a visit back to the UK for Christmas in 2011 we both felt that we missed quite a lot about Yorkshire and decided to move back. After we had uprooted our lives and moved halfway around the world, the entrepreneurial spirit was alive and kicking and starting our own business here was always going to be less scary because we had faced risk before.
“Because we are a pair of foodies, we had seen a peanut butter out there that was all natural and made on quite a small scale, and that wasn’t happening in this country, so we figured that might be our opportunity.”
While Franklin’s background is in food science, Stuart’s is in marketing, which gave the project a harder edge – it is all very well following your dreams, but at an early stage you have to ask “Will anyone else want this?”. New ideas, however great, still need their unique selling points (USPs) and, at that stage, the quality of a home-made product and the control it gave the producers appealed to the market. And everyone loves a David versus Goliath business story.
“We started making one in the kitchen just for ourselves,” said Franklin. “So, when we were looking for that next move, it seemed a very natural progression to grow what we were doing in our own home and move to a little factory in Dewsbury.
“We wanted to really bring out the full flavour of the peanut, so we roast ours and, as with a good coffee bean, there are different degrees of roast to bring out just the right flavour. We then crush them and mill them to a very natural coarse texture – what we called ‘smunchy’.”
Around the product itself, Stuart has built a strong marketing package to position Proper Nutty as a brand. It uses only glass jars to reduce landfill and to encourage recycling and re-use. But glass jars are also better for the product, with its “barrier” qualities regarded as being better at keeping flavour in and external contaminants out.
For the brand to move beyond a very niche product, the company also had to overcome the image of peanut butter as perhaps not the healthiest product out there. As with goods like butter, cooking oils, wine and cheese, it is a matter of quality and quantity: two bottles of £3.99 ‘Merlot de Glugger’ and some individually-wrapped cheese slices will do some damage, but a couple of glasses of a good Châteauneuf-du-Pape and some cubes of Comté Reserve are an experience.
“Nutrition advice has changed,” explains Frankin. “It wasn’t so long ago that people were on low-fat diets and cutting down on all fats.
“More recently, we are told there are good fats and bad fats and peanuts are in the first category and have fat-soluble vitamins and now carbohydrates are the enemy. There used to be added oils and added sugar in some peanut butters, but now people know that a good-quality version can be a great thing to have in your diet, with protein and the fibre that can make you feel full.”
Much like that decent bottle of red, peanut butter’s use as a single ingredient in recipes is growing rapidly. Take the words themselves out of the recipe title so that they don’t dominate and you have Franklin’s versions of African vegetable stews, billionaire’s shortbread, Asian coleslaw and aubergine dip. I’m also reliably informed that peanut butter and Marmite on a warm crumpet is, to quote Peter Kay, a “taste sensation”.
The changing image means a changing market and, even though it is still just this enterprising couple doing it all themselves, interest is spreading from local shops to a listing from motorway service stations at Tebay and Gloucester, which were winning awards by changing perceptions and offering good food at good prices.
“About 15 months ago, we were accepted by some of the Morrisons stores,” added Franklin. “That came about after the Manufactured Yorkshire event in Huddersfield, where there was a day put aside just for food and drink.
“We were given a ‘meet the buyer’ slot and that’s where I met the Morrisons team. It almost didn’t happen because we were also booked for the Good Food Show in Birmingham, but thankfully my dad stepped in and went there with Stuart so that I could head for Huddersfield.
“Booths then followed because they were promoting food and drink from ‘Booths’ country’. We learned early on that you have to put yourself out there, particularly with just the two of us, but the thing is that you never know how they will turn out.”
Brussels, Kuwait and Italy are also going nutty for the Franklins. Up-market butcher Jack O’Shea took some for his Belgian store as well as the Primrose Hill one in London, and the prestigious Kuwait City branch of up-market New York Deli chain Dean & Deluca said “Yes” in November 2015.
The Italian job came about after a slot was found for the butter in the shop at Oakwell Hall near the Franklins’ Dewsbury factory. Move on a few weeks and a Facebook post pops up showing a jar in a very smart Milan store after it was spotted by a visiting distributor.
The future is looking buttery. The company produces about 1,000 jars a day but, with growing interest from the supermarkets, a new factory is being planned with some hand-picked staff to help spread the load. With turnover already just dipping under the £100,000 mark, the brand is ready for a much bigger stage.
“I think we know we have some really good values around the Proper Nutty brand, and that has created a lot of mileage for the product,” says Franklin. “Now we want more of a market share and to continue educating people in why it is good and sufficiently different.
“A lot of people are looking for provenance as part of a real movement towards genuine food from local producers. If they know the people who are making their food then there is a trust there that is difficult to match.
“It also helps so much that the food and drink industry is so well supported in Yorkshire and is an important sector, with cheese and brewing providing such a strong base. We compare notes and challenges as often as possible.”
So, the roasting and milling stays the same and the ethos and taste remain, but the operation has to grow because so many people like what the Franklins have created. That’s a recipe any entrepreneur would enjoy.