The first jar
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Wow. What a moment to relive.
Pre-production, I had met with the woman who ran the kitchen. She was (and still is) a great mentor to me; she filled my brain with a wealth of information, answered all of my questions before getting started, and has always been there to advise me throughout my formal production journey ever since. Every time we talked, I always left with more questions and more answers I had to find—but that’s what helped me accelerate my learning and really understand the scope of what I was getting into as a CPG producer.
Regulations, production protocols, insurance. Product label requirements, scheduled process, inspections. Licenses, rental costs, equipment needs. Ingredient quantities, miscellaneous supplies and more. There was so much I thought I knew pre-production, but so much more I had to learn to actually bring Noomi to life. (And to be honest, the learning never stops, which I love). I had to stay focused, be willing to learn, and continue to diligently, and pro-actively, seek answers to achieve my goal: jarring and selling the taste of what peanut butter (PB) embodied to me.
The first day I stepped into the kitchen to actually produce my peanut butter, it was unlike anything I could have ever prepared for or imagined. I had my now go-to kitchen outfit on, featuring bright yellow crocs for optimal kitchen comfort; I grabbed my yellow Williams & Sonoma apron, water bottle, packed lunch, and production supplies. I was ready to go!
My initial thoughts going in were pretty simple:
Since I already work an 8+ hour day-job, I can start off working 2-3 consecutive, 8+ hour days of production. No problem.
I only need one 12 cup food processor to produce my peanut butter.
I don’t need help in the kitchen. I can just make the PB all on my own!
By the end of day one, a new reality emerged:
Kitchen/production stamina is VERY different than corporate, 9-5 stamina. When I started, I'd work half days; now I can do two 11-hour shifts over two days (in addition to my night-before-day-one, one-hour of prep). But wow, it’s a lot to get used to lol. And though I'm now more accustomed to the grind, it doesn’t mean that production is always easier. Especially when I’m on my own—which thankfully is not as often anymore. Sure I’ve enhanced my process, finding new ways to maximize my hours and efficiency. But the days are long, and the weekend kitchen shifts can be physically draining when they follow a demanding work-week at my full-time job. I’m just proud of myself for pressing on through the trials of my PB pursuit. "You always have to see the positives," as my cousin says.
You’re there to produce! I started with one food processor, then two, and after a few rounds of production, graduated to using three food processors/day. And when I have more help, I will use even more processors to increase my output. It's never enough!
While I'm living proof that it’s possible to do it all on my own, help is incredibly helpful to have. (Especially when it’s free! Hehe. So thank you to my wonderful friends and family who have come out to the kitchen to help. I hope I made it a fun experience!!)
As I started making my recipe in bulk, it was really hard to get into a rhythm—one where I actually felt like I fully knew what I was doing. I had made all of my 100+ test recipes at home in my little-8-foot-galley-kitchen, yes, but something about being in this fully-equipped kitchen, with all of my machinery and packaging supplies staring back at me, really elevated the PB-making experience.
But, in the same way I stayed committed to developing Noomi’s signature blend of organic peanut butter, I had to just stick with it. I knew if I did, everything would come together. You learn by doing, and as you do something more, you continue to get better at it. (Unless it’s physics...because that just never gets easier lol). Jar by jar, I would gradually get better at the whole end-to-end process. It took awhile to find a rhythm and a groove, but once I found it, everything made more sense. And that familiarity and knowledge bred new confidence.
My first day of production, which Instagram tells me was about 96 weeks ago, I made 97 jars of 8oz. At the time I first launched, I had these adorable 4oz jars too. Ultimately, I had to phase them out because they became extremely costly to make (see, always learning)—but maybe I’ll bring them back for a future variety pack! (Love that idea!!)
I remember seeing my first jars on the baker’s rack; row by row, my beautiful glass, peanut butter-filled jars lined each tray, flaunting their radiant gold lids. It was a totally surreal site. It finally wasn’t just one small Tupperware or Ziplock bag of a "maybe" sample batch of PB from my test kitchen. It was the formal, 100th recipe, being made in bulk; perfectly poured into every jar; and prepared to be sold to actual paying customers!
I had a real company, with a real product being brought into the real world. Ahh! And there was something so humbling about that simple truth, and all the hard work, passion, and resilience it symbolized. It’s funny to think that when I’d tell people, or my parents would tell their friends about my PB venture, they thought it was just a fun side project. Of course that’s how it all started, but now I can say my product is sold in actual stores! For the record, it’s still just as exciting to see Noomi on a retail shelf today, as it was the first day. (That’s how I know it’s something I need to continue to pursue—because of the sheer joy this nutty journey brings me).
After I finished making the product, I spent the rest of my time at the kitchen labeling the jars; meticulously hand-writing lot numbers in black Sharpie on the bottom of them; and finishing each one off with a perforated, plastic heat seal. (I have to say, I'm incredible at heat-sealing now; really, it's an art). I remember seeing my first jars filled, labeled and ready to be sold. I took a quick Boomerang video on my iPhone of me putting the first finished jar in the first finished case. Another super special moment. Gah, there are just so many!!!
Once the first jar was officially complete, I held it in my hands like I was seeing a baby (or rather, a peanut emerging from its perfectly imperfect outer shell) for the first time in my life. The moment was pure joy, and filled me up with the realest, rawest emotions. And tears. Lots of happy tears.
“I did it,” I thought.
I remember taking a bunch of pictures and videos of my first batches of product, and me with the jars, of course. I wanted to capture the moment for reasons like this blog, which allow me to stop and reflect on the many milestones (such as this!) that have collectively shaped Noomi’s path.
It’s the memories I’ve made along this journey that I always want to remember. And so many of them are firsts: my first test batch, finding the 100th recipe for my first PB product, my first day of production, first jar, first case, first farmer's market, first sample to my first customer, first retail partnership, first sofi Award from the Specialty Food Association (2019)—and everything in between the firsts and the lasts. They all have their own perfect place in my heart and in my story.
These moments keep me true, thankful, honest and humble. So that even in times of doubt or uncertainty, which we are all facing now, I can hold on to the moments I’ve captured to remind me why I continue to do what I do.
Because even when things around us get a little nuts, we all have our passions, goals and ambitions to keep us alive.
For me, that passion is hand-making an authentic, clean label organic peanut butter that’s better for people and the environment. It’s my “new me”—and so much a part of the person and entrepreneurial small business owner I am today.
Some call me “peanut,” others call me “peanut butter girl,” most call me NUTS! But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What memorable moments in time can you vividly relive?