Peanut butter baron spreads good news in New Plymouth

Jodi Roebuck (left) and Pic Picot.
Jodi Roebuck (left) and Pic Picot. Photo credit: RNZ

By Robin Martin of RNZ

The owner and founder of Pic's Peanut Butter - Pic Picot - was not about to let the COVID-19 related cancellation of a "design thinking" conference stop him from getting out and talking to like-minded entrepreneurs in New Plymouth.

The peanut-butter baron was keen to spread the good news about leveraging visitor experiences off existing businesses.

Depending on which business publication you read, "design thinking" can loosely be defined "putting the user experience at the centre of the creative process", and more than 100 people had registered for the one-day Designing Visitor Futures of Taranaki conference, where Pic Picot was one of the keynote speakers.

Not that he puts much stock in the business catchphrases.

"Yeah, well, it's bit of a buzzword I think. It's about actually thinking about your customer, starting with your customer," he says.

"Your customers are all you've got and you can be the cleverest person in the world ... and a lot of people think 'I'm so clever, I can do this, I can do that' but actually the gold is in the market and if you discover a market that's where the gold mine is."

Pic's Peanut Butter had its origin in Picot's frustration with what was available on the supermarket shelves.

Its Nelson base now features Pic's Peanut Butter World with factory tours, a cafe, bar and event venue.

Picot said the visitor experience was now a key part of the business.

"People were really interested in what we were doing and we don't see how our food is made and I just thought the opportunity of letting people through and actually welcoming them in ... you know, welcoming them 'hey you're our customers you deserve to come and have a look at this, you're our best friends, we rely on you to give us your money'."

A good visitor experience was better value than any amount of advertising, he said.

"Kids especially get really excited about it and I would rather have one person really excited about our product going home and telling their friends and always having it there than having 100,000 people look at an ad and think 'oh, I'll try that one day', 'cause that enthusiasm rubs off and I think that's been the reason for our growth."

Making the best of a bad situation, Picot visited Egmont Honey and Roebuck Farm among other Taranaki businesses on Tuesday.

Market gardener Jodi Roebuck brags he "grows vegetables like your granny did". He knows how to make a little go a long way.

"We are a super intensive half-acre of production. We supply 10 restaurants, four retail stores including Pak'nSave New Plymouth. And we're doing pretty good turn over on that small area, currently it's about $250,000. For those that talk about the hectare that's $2.5 million a hectare."

Jodi Roebuck shows off his cucumber plants.
Jodi Roebuck shows off his cucumber plants. Photo credit: RNZ

Roebuck already knew about the value of visitors.

"We run events regularly at least every month and prior to COVID we were promoting them internationally. So we run household gardner classes, to market garden intensive. So, we're helping people, wherever they're at, become more systematic, more sustainable both for the soil and their bank accounts."

Roebuck said events now made up about 35 percent of the business.

Venture Taranaki was behind the canned conference and chief executive Justine Gilliland said it was important to find new revenue streams as the region transitioned away from oil and gas.

She reckoned there were other local businesses that could look to create tourism experiences.

"We have Egmont Seafood, for example, who are a fantastic seafood company. They could be doing something around that. Showing people how the fish are caught and filleted and so on, delivering a really beautiful fresh product.

"We have Egmont Honey who do some of these sorts of things, but could expand. Juno Gin, they already do some distillery stuff and they are expanding their distillery to incorporate better those tourism experiences."

Gilliland said the biggest opportunity at scale should come as no surprise.

"One of the potential opportunities that we think about is cheese. Taranaki is the home of New Zealand's dairy. We have amazing cheeses produced here with the speciality cheeses from Fonterra as well as smaller brands getting into that space and so there's a real opportunity for us as a region to be thinking about being the cheese region."

Gilliland said Taranaki was the place where the dairy - butter and cheese - export business was invented and it had a great story to tell.

It was hoped to reschedule the Designing Visitor Futures of Taranaki conference for later this year.