Fix & Fogg has garnered a lot of attention since launching in the US, from their quirky window store in Montrose, Houston, to winning a Sofi Award – the Oscars of American food awards, to being stocked in 1000+ supermarkets and gaining a country-wide distribution deal with Whole Foods Supermarkets. Read about their story here.
Fix & Fogg is a Wellington-founded nut butter company, taking their product to the biggest nut butter market of them all, the USA.
Fix & Fogg represents the strength of New Zealand’s food story, and are an exemplar of how to tackle a new market – finding a way to test your product, building a strong brand presence, and looking to surprise and delight your customer with something new.
The brand has garnered a lot of attention since launching in the US, from their quirky window store in Montrose, Houston, to winning a Sofi Award – the Oscars of American food awards, to being stocked in 1000+ supermarkets and gaining a country-wide distribution deal with Whole Foods Supermarkets.
“We sat here in New Zealand looking at our product and thinking ‘we make best in class products – if they’re that good, let’s give them a go in the world’s biggest market’. Now we’re picking up other accolades and awards in America [and stocked across the country]… it’s been proof of concept for me that our products are good enough to play in this market.”
Fix & Fogg is one of New Zealand’s most loved brands, growing their nut butter company from a bowls club in Wellington to a distribution deal with a range of US retailers, most notable of which is Wholefoods.
Roman Jewell is the CEO and Founder of Fix & Fogg.
“In the last two years, we doubled year on year which makes us one of the fastest growing food brands in New Zealand. It gets harder to sustain 100% growth the bigger you get, because there’s less room to expand. So we’ve managed our growth by taking more of the mainstream peanut butter category, but also expanding the category of nut butters. In the past two years, we’ve introduced our Everything Butter, Cashew Butter and Almond, Cashew and Maple, along with a number of other limited edition flavours,” says Roman.
“Our Everything Butter has been a phenomenal product and won best in class at the Outstanding Food Producer Awards here in NZ last year and a gold award from the Sofi Specialty Food Awards, which are like the Oscars of American food awards.
“We’ve also achieved B Corp certification. It’s a big process that took about 12 months to get and we were the first New Zealand owned food manufacturer to do so.”
But the biggest development for Fix & Fogg in the past two years has been the exponential growth of their US business.
Says Roman, “A couple of years ago, we were selling on Amazon – really trialling and testing and seeing if we could make their e-commerce channel profitable. It’s quite hard to make a whole business out of Amazon, because it’s quite an expensive platform to work with – it’s a pay-to-play site, you have to advertise on it. That takes a lot of cash, and it’s really difficult to talk directly to your customers.
“So we made the call in 2019 that we would move from being online to onshelf, and start with getting a small foothold in a physical store or supermarket. We spent 2019 really trying to understand that environment in America, and we did that by traveling – I did about four trips and Sarah Sherriff, our head of export, did a similar amount.
“And it was just a learning process, literally walking the beat – going into stores, looking at the shelf to see what was available and leveraging our relationship with NZTE and friends of friends, to help us learn and plot a path. We started building our team on the ground, and it started with Blake Lupton, our GM of US operations.
“There is now a team of four F&F people based in Houston, we have a manufacturer there – we’re about to join a new manufacturer to keep up with demand. We have a national broker team of about 80 plus, we have a back office provider out of Pittsburgh that helps their forecasting and invoicing and registration of a company. We’ve built a whole scalable business in America still being run out in New Zealand by myself, Sarah and Blake.
“We were lucky enough to get an order from Central Market, a chain of premium supermarkets in Texas. They’re really lovely stores, similar to a Moore Wilsons or Farro Fresh. We went in store in July last year – it was obviously quite tricky because our normal method would be offering in store tastings, but Covid made that impossible. So we put a lot of effort into leveraging social media and personal relationships to build brand awareness and strong connections with store managers and buyers.
“And our success in Central Market stores has really helped us to get on the shelves with the second largest and the largest specialty grocery stores in the US – Sprouts and Wholefoods.
“We started at Sprouts about three months ago – that’s 363 stores across 36 states. To put that in perspective, we’re in about 350 stores here in New Zealand.
“And the biggest thing that has happened to Fix & Fogg to date is Wholefoods has put us in all of their stores across the US. Usually they might give you one region as a bit of a test but they’ve put us in all 509 stores across 50 states.
“I can’t think of another foreign nut butter company on those shelves at the moment – we’re going into the thick of American brands, and what could be more quintessential than peanut butter in America. It’s a pretty special humbling opportunity and that’s kind of our defining moment in the States because Wholefoods is synonymous with American grocery. So Americans know and love to shop there and the brand recognition will help us to exponentially grow this business.”
I asked Roman why they decided to tackle the United States.
“I think it always starts with having a big dream. Why not go for the largest market in the world? The arguments against it will be because it’s the most competitive and therefore probably the most expensive market to compete in – but I love that challenge.
“We’re going into the thick of American brands, and what could be more quintessential than peanut butter in America. It’s a pretty special humbling opportunity and that’s kind of our defining moment in the States because Wholefoods is synonymous with American grocery.”
“We sat here in New Zealand looking at our product and thinking ‘we make best in class products – if they’re that good, let’s give them a go in the world’s biggest market’. Now we’ve won a Sofi award, and we’re picking up other accolades and awards in America. It’s been proof of concept for me that our products are good enough to play in this market.
“The other reason for us is probably more of a technical export one. It takes a couple of years to get traction in an export market, regardless of how easy you think it might be – so why spend two years chasing somewhere like Australia when we could spend the same amount of time taking on a market like the US. That was really Sarah’s mindset as our lead architect for the US rollout.
“It was also key getting someone like Blake on the ground for us. He’s someone I really like personally, trust implicitly, shares the same dream and hustle for the brand and that people element can change things.
“Just to give you the other side of the coin, while we’re looking at numbers like 1000+ supermarkets, we’ve also invested over $1.2 million in the US this year. So it’s a huge financial risk.
“I think the Amazon component was key for us because it allowed us to gain feedback, learn what resonated and what didn’t, gave us time to figure out the retail environment in America, what supermarkets were a good brand fit etc. The laser focus on Houston enabled us to be an inch wide and a mile deep – trying to own one area and build out from there to reach customers. That got us to the point of pitching to Central Market. If we had got in and it hadn’t worked out, it would’ve been 10 stores. I never want to fail but it would’ve enabled us to fail small, rather than tackling Wholefoods off the bat. Covid threw us a curveball and I haven’t yet seen our products on the shelf which is sad because we’ve done all the legwork to get to this point.”
I asked Roman what the key things F&F were focusing on in the US for the next few years.
“We’re focused on delivering on promises we’ve made to Wholefoods and Sprouts. We’re not here for a big distribution grab – we want to make sure there’s really good pick up and we can look after them and Central Market as customers. If we can own those stores, win in them and become a rockstar brand, other stockists will become because of that.
“Of course we’ve always got new ideas for flavours so those are constantly in development to keep surprising and delighting our customers.”
“Just as a final comment, I love the idea that it’s achievable to start any business and put it on the world stage. If there is a legacy of Fix & Fogg, it’s to show that if you have an idea and you commit to it that you can do great things with it, no matter what your background or financial situation or experience. I mean we started in a community lawn bowls club seven years ago, and we’ve now scaled it into nearly 1000 supermarkets in America – and that’s pretty special.”