Boulder-based Justin’s Nut Butter is quickly becoming a household name. It began with a blender, a roommate who loved the stuff and a lot of hard work, according to Founder and Co-CEO Justin Gold. Gold recently spoke to CU Denver Business Students as part of the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship’s Best of Colorado Speaker Series.
The company has ranked in the Top 15 on the Inc. 500/5000 Fastest Growing Companies list in the Food and Beverage category two years in a row. Gold was also recognized as the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in the Mountain Desert Region.
Gold began Justin’s Nut Butter in 2004 after making some nut butters at his house in Boulder. “I’d put it in empty jars in the cupboard and living with a bunch of guys you’d out your name on everything. So I literally put my name on the jar: ‘Justin’s,’” he says. “A roommate said these are really good. Have you ever thought about selling these?”
“It turns into this fun creative exercise and now it becomes a business exercise,” Gold says. The roommate’s question inspired Gold to start asking entrepreneurial questions like: “How do you sell this to a grocery store? How do you make it safe?…All these questions started to get me curious.”
Gold realized he needed a business plan to explore how to do all those things and turned to CU’s business library to build a business plan. He found help in shelves and in a professor who showed interest in his project. The plan netted him $25,000 from friends and family allowing him to sell at the Boulder farmer’s market.
From there Gold wanted to get into grocery stores but ran into the first of many dilemmas. But grocery stores didn’t want to buy directly from him and distributors didn’t want to sell to just a few stores. So Gold went into local stores offering to do tastings, restock the products and give the stores a free case if it didn’t sell.
The next evolution of Justin’s came when Gold realized no one was putting proteins into energy gel packets athletes often use. He talked with mentors at successful food companies in Boulder, among them Celestial Seasonings and Izze soda. The mentors and advisors helped him learn what steps he needed to take next. He raised the funds to purchase a squeeze pack machine. “I realized if I can find my own squeeze machine…I would have a jump on the competition.” He repurposed a machine used to package shampoos and conditioner samples.
Gold hit his stride when he moved the pouches from sports bar section of stores to beside his jars of nut butter. People weren’t willing to pay $12 for a jar of almond butter when they hadn’t tried it before, but the 50 cent pouch next to it was a different story. “People understood exactly what it was,” he says. “To one consumer it was protein, to another it was portion control.”
Shortly thereafter both Whole Foods and Starbucks wanted to distribute the product around the country. Since then the company’s been gaining acceptance across the U.S. and Gold has had to create a more involved business plan, add board members and prove his ability to repay investors. Strategies that have allowed him to attract investors to continue to, well, go nuts with growth.
Visit the Best of Colorado event page to learn more about the next event.
To find out more about the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship, visit the Center’s webpage.