Krystina L. Murawski
Made by hand, on my mind
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Maybe I need to stop overthinking. You see, when I started “A Nutter Day,” I had this vision that I’d be able to compile these blog posts into a book that tells my story. I do still believe that’s possible, by the way. You gotta dream big. I always have; I’ll never stop.
But maybe today is just a simple “in the moment” sort of post. That doesn’t have to be grandiose, or tied to a goal, such as publishing a book, but can just be read for what it is—which is my (arguably) very interesting thoughts.
So what’s on my mind today?
Well, LOTS of things. Several VERY exciting things!!! Some of which I cannot disclose just yet (ah!), but hopefully can one day soon. But for now, co-packing, is what’s on my mind.
I currently hand-make every single jar of Noomi peanut butter in a commercial kitchen. Yes, it’s true! Noomi is hand-made, in small batches, with labors of legumes (I mean, love). I’ve been lucky enough to have an incredible group of family and friends, and a girlfriend, all of whom are so supportive of my nutty business that they’ve dedicated entire weekends of their time to help me make jars of peanut butter. And they’ve never asked for anything in return. Except lifetime supplies of PB. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding).
If the “hand-made” aspect of Noomi PB comes up in conversation, there’s definitely a wow factor. I mean, if you think about one fairly NUTS human being ordering 300 pounds of peanuts at a time, a wow factor kind of makes sense lol. But it’s not about that.
There’s something to be said about making every single jar—and by that I mean, literally pouring your passion, by the heaping spatula, into every single jar you’ve ever sold.
Wow. It’s humbling to think about. And it means something special to a lot of people, which I really appreciate. Not to mention, I love having control over my recipe and my product, and being 110% certain about the quality of what I’m selling to consumers. Because selling a product for human consumption is a big deal. Especially in today’s world. More people are carefully reading nutrition labels to make informed purchasing decisions for themselves and their families; they want to know what they’re putting into their bodies, where it’s from, how it’s made, you name it. I am my own customer, and it's a helpful perspective to have.
Those are just a baseline of some of the expectations I’m mindful of when I talk about my product. It becomes even more evident because the first thing an interested buyer does is pick up the jar and turn it to read the ingredients on the label. I digress a bit here but it’s all relevant. My peanut butter is SO many things to me (and I can name a lot of things lol), but as a food that is consumed by the general public, quality and consistency—whether by the jar or the sample-spoonful—is, and will remain, of the utmost importance. That’s why “quality” is one of Noomi’s core values. Now hold onto that thought.
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Let’s go back to the wow factor in making every jar of Noomi peanut butter by hand. I know why I do it, but some might ask, “Why not have someone else do it for you?”
I’m glad you asked. This leads me to my next point. Co-packers.
To co-pack, or not to co-pack—that's the real question. A co-packer means finding someone who makes what you make, on a larger scale, and asking them to make yours too. Sounds simple, right? Wrong.
There are so many facets to engaging a co-packer it makes my head spin. It’s something I’ve really struggled with taking the leap on too.
On the surface, it operationally makes the most sense. Noomi is organically growing, and at some point, there are human limitations as far as what I can actually make by hand in a given time period, even with tons of help. I’m a PB-making-machine, don’t get me wrong, but I’m also very human...slash OLD—32 going on 85 with my current body aches. Making hundreds of jars of peanut butter on a weekend, after an intensive full-time job work week, is physically exhausting. I’ve built kitchen stamina (it’s a thing), and still, it can be a lot on my body. But even on the toughest days, and I can pinpoint one in particular, I wouldn’t trade those long weekends in the kitchen for the world. Because I love what I do, and Noomi is my “new me.”
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Okay, old lady. So why not use a co-packer???
With quality and consistency being so important, how do I find the right co-packer for me and Noomi? They say finding a co-packer should be like a perfect marriage. It needs to be an excellent match. A long-standing, trustworthy relationship. Someone who you would let hold your newborn baby.
So who will Noomi marry—and who will hold my first-born? Did I take this analogy too far? Maybe. My point is that having a healthy, sustainable relationship with a co-packer who understands you, your company and your product’s needs is the foundation of engaging a co-packer from the start. If you want the short answer, it comes down to three things:
Capability, quality and cost.
Capability: I’ve researched and made long lists of co-packers that I assumed would be viable options for Noomi based on proximity and the types of products they produced—whether nut butters, peanut butter specifically, or a more expansive list of similarly packed goods. My spreadsheets were very detailed. I thought I covered everything. Who would’ve thought that it would come down to capability. I’ve found co-packers who make peanut butter, but they’re limited to what ingredients they can run on their production lines. From no dates, to no oil, to the size of the salt granules—to any combination of these things. Capability is a huge limitation. You'd be surprised! (Well, not anymore).
Quality: From the beginning of Noomi, I promised myself that I would never compromise on quality—and I intend to hold true to that promise. Just like how I will never use palm oil in my products. The taste of Noomi organic peanut butter is the taste that people have grown to know and love, and I will never jeopardize that. To me, that means, not changing ingredient ratios, or the brands that I use, or my recipe, merely to match a co-packer’s capabilities. I’ve tried different brands before—it's all part of how I got to my 100th recipe. You wouldn’t believe the difference in taste and texture that results from a simple oil brand swap! I relate this way back to when Coke changed their soda formulation and customers went ballistic. So they reverted back to the OG recipe. I’m not saying I’m Coke, and I’m sure Coke could survive any financial loss, but I’m just not going to go there. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Am I right???
Cost: If I found a co-packer that was capable of producing Noomi, I would at some point make the investment as a next-step for my business. To be clear, there are HUGE up-front costs and requirements that vary by the co-packer, like production minimums, for example. There are also lots of things I'd lose control over like QA and oversight, compared to when I produce Noomi peanut butter myself. The other option is building out my own production facility, with my own commercial equipment—one that’s capable of making Noomi PB exactly how it's made today...but in even larger bulk quantities. Believe me, I’ve thought about it, but wow. Those costs are exorbitant too. As a start-up/small business, you have to be especially mindful of all of your costs, and how they'll impact your profitability.
Well, so, what started as a little on my mind, turned into a lot. Naturally. The entrepreneurial, small business life is an amazing life, but it does come with challenges. As I write this today, it feels like co-packers are my biggest challenge, but that may not always be the case.
How can I find a co-packer that meets my needs? What if I never do? And if I can’t find one, how do I operationally expand my business to keep up with consumer demand and continue to support Noomi’s growth while balancing a full-time job? Or do I just take the plunge, invest, and create my own commercial space to work in?
Sometimes I wish the answers were handed to me on a golden platter—but in reality, that’s not what I want. Otherwise, how would I have learned what I’ve learned so quickly? In building Noomi from the ground up, I’ve really learned all facets of my business—and I absolutely love that. I can show someone how to heat seal a lid because I’ve done it myself. I can explain the process of getting a 20-C Food Processing License because I have one. The list goes on. The experience and knowledge I have gained is invaluable and transferrable. And while I by no means know it all, I’m grateful for what I know and have learned over these last two years and a couple of months in business.
Through all of this, the one thing I hold onto is my passion, and the steadfast belief in my dream and my vision for Noomi. No one can take that away for me. For without it, there would be no Noomi. And I need Noomi; I really do. The journey, the growth, the people, the places, the excitement, the challenges, the anticipation, the rewards, and the peanut butter. And ohhh how I do love the peanut butter.
For now, the future state of engaging a co-packer is unknown. What I do know, is that by continuing to research, learn and grow, I am preparing myself for the ultimate decision—and I’ll take that decision and decide what to do with it when the time comes. In the meantime, I’m in for the journey. Wherever it takes me. I am 110% all in.