Keeley Tillotson, left, and Erika Welsh are the founders of Wild Squirrel Nut Butter.
Peanut butter is a staple of any college student’s diet: It’s a little sweet, a little salty, very healthy, and completely addictive. When 20-year-old Erika Welsh and nineteen-year-old Keeley Tillotson realized they’d run out of their favorite snack one rainy day, they knew they had to take action. The resourceful University of Oregon students realized that they had all the ingredients in their own pantry—plus some. They started making nut (both peanut and almond) butters mixed with chocolate, cinnamon, and coconut, and selling their products at local farmer’s markets. A year later, their nut butters are in demand across the country. Learn how these best friends turned a simple idea into a successful, lucrative business.
How did you get the idea for Wild Squirrel Nut Butter?
Erika: “We started making our nut butters as sophomores in college. We didn’t want to go to the grocery store in the rain to buy more peanut butter, and we had food processors and nuts. We both love to cook, and we were tired of the plain or crunchy kinds you can find at the grocery store, so we decided to get a little more creative and use cinnamon, raisins, chocolate, and coconut. We started giving our nut butters to our friends and family around the Oregon area, but we were poor college students, so we needed to get paid for it! We made a website, set up a PayPal account, and started taking orders online.”
What do you do to ensure that you’re using good, fresh ingredients?
Keeley: “We really value the product and are passionate about good food and good nutrition. It’s all about finding companies that fit our goals because our product is a composite of other ingredients. We spend a lot of time talking to suppliers and making sure their sources are close to where we make our nut butters, if possible. Our peanuts are local to the U.S.; a lot of peanut butter companies use peanuts from China or Argentina, and those are often exposed to pesticides and fossil fuels. We make sure that we feel confident about where our products come from.”
How do you handle the finances of your business?
Erika: “Something that has really helped us is that we are not afraid to ask for help. We’re young and started as college students, and we never had any formal business training besides one or two business classes. We reached out to other entrepreneurs to learn more.”
Where is your company at now, and what are your goals?
Erika: “We are in about 125 stores in Washington, Oregon, and California, and we are in a few bakeries throughout the Midwest. We’re going to have distribution in the Midwest and East Coast area. We are taking a leave of absence from school right now because Wild Squirrel needs our full attention. Peanut butter has consumed our lives!”
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