From Farmers’ Markets to National Stores in 5 Years with Erika Welsh from Wild Friends

 Erika Welsh is the co-founder of Wild Friends Foods, an all-natural foods company that makes both flavored and plain nut & seed butters.  She started this company serendipitously back in 2011 when she and her college roommate were munching on peanut butter Erika welsh Wild Friend on Blissful Bites podcastand celery and ran out of peanut butter!  Instead of going to the store to buy more, they pulled out their food processor and a bag of peanuts they just so happened to have in their pantry.  Once the food processor was running, they started combining all sorts of ingredients into the peanut butter and came up with many flavors that they immediately put in jars with a label and gave away to all of their friends! What was intended to be an afternoon project quickly snowballed into a business and the girls never looked back!  They left school to pursue their dreams of everyone having the opportunity to try Wild Friends! In 2012, Erika and Keeley appeared on Shark Tank which helped them gain tons of national exposure and has helped them go from farmer’s markets to 9,000 stores in just about 5 years!

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Tell us a little bit about Erika Welsh and Wild Friends.

My business partner and I started our company when we were best friends living in college. We were both busy college students and athletes and we love peanut butter. As many people especially college students do, we used to joke around. We used to buy, ‘Whose turn is it to buy the jar of peanut butter this week?’ One week we ran out of it and I had just been given a food processor as a gift for Christmas from my mom. And we ran out of it (peanut butter), it was a rainy January Sunday in Eugene, Oregon where we went to school and instead of jumping our bikes and go to the grocery store we just decided to make our own. We’ve seen a food blog post about how to make your own peanut butter and that was right up our alley since we were huge peanut butter fans. We started experimenting and realized it was so fun to just blend up a bunch of peanuts and salt and have our favorite snack at the ready and once you have the blender going it was hard for us to stop there. So we decided to start including all of these different ingredients that we already ate with peanut butter, like raisins, cinnamon, chocolate and coconut. We came up with all these different flavors of peanut butter and that’s how it all started.

Tell a little bit about your journey, how you went from just making it in your own kitchen to starting to sell it?

We were always just on a fast track since day 1 because we were so excited about the product and everyone around us was giving us such good feedback.They kept asking where can we buy it. We realized that we wanted to be able to sell it instead of literally meeting people on street corners on our college campus at University of Oregon. We started selling at our first street fair,  at the University of Oregon. We started selling our products there and that was the first time we went in front of our peers; everyone was coming in sampling and giving us feedback and we sold out  in one day. We’ve made enough to last what we thought were 4 days and it lasted one. After that street fair was over we just felt this momentum and excitement from all the responses  so we continued to do farmers’ market in the summer and then we started looking into stores. It was like, ‘How can we get this peanut butter to people’s hands because they were asking for it?’

My business partner Keeley was 18 and I was 19 when we started, we were sophomores. We had just declared our majors, Keeley was a journalism major, I was Environmental study and Spanish major. We had no interest in business or food science or anything like that and once this all started it just totally consumed our minds and our lives and that was all we wanted to do. Quickly it just became our whole lives and we finished our sophomore year at college just barely. We had a couple classes together and I remembered just sitting in class, swapping notes, ‘What time can we meet at… to go make peanut butter?’ ‘We just got 10 orders!’ It was very clear that our little project, as we called it, needed our full time and attention.

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Do you have clear parameters with your partner?

In the beginning, we did everything together. We wanted to do everything together that just felt natural because we were best friends and starting this business together. We did that for a couple of years into the business and then I think we just kind of hit a breaking point where we looked at each other and we’re like, ‘We can’t continue to go to every meeting together. We can’t work on every project together or brainstorm every single thing together.’ There was definitely a time where we figured out we had to divide and conquer if we want to grow our business.

How did you come up with your sales strategy?

We did not have any business training. We from beginning Googled everything, called everyone we could, talked to other food entrepreneurs and this is when we were in Eugene. From the beginning, we really just did a lot of outreach. Something that really was a game changer for us is Keeley’s dad joined our team. He really helped us develop our sales strategy and our market strategy.

What would you say is your most proud moment so far?

I would never forget the first time that Keeley and I saw our products on grocery store shelves. That was on October 2011, and I remember we had gotten a purchase order from New Seasons Market. We got a purchase order from them and we delivered product to their store. We jumped in the car and rushed over one of the stores. We ran to the peanut butter aisle and we threw ourselves on the ground because our peanut butter was close to the ground and it was our jars all lined up.

Share your biggest flop or disappointment to date.

We started with peanut butter and that was really successful and then we realized there is this huge niche for almond butter because a lot of people were allergic to peanut butter. So we launched almond butter and that’s the second biggest nut butter category besides peanut butter. After that we realized that a lot of people have nut allergies in general so we launched sunflower butter. When we did this we wanted to have a variety of flavors like we do with our peanut butter and our almond butter so we launched a maple, a honey and a chocolate.

One of the things that I would stress to people, especially with a food product or even if you have a body care product or anything that requires a recipe, I would say ‘Do not launch that product until you have the recipe 100% nailed down because for us we launched the chocolate one, the recipe was not perfected. We got it into a lot of distribution and we were changing the recipe. When it would be on the shelves if someone found that product and liked it once they would go back and it tasted different and then we would get emails about that.

What is your biggest piece of advice to someone who is just starting out?

Erika Welsh from Wild Friends Foods

I would say just start.

Do you have a company or business owner that you and Keeley looked up to when you were starting?

Picky bars. It was started by a couple of pro-athletes. Lauren Fleshman is a professional runner and she started this with her husband. They were in Eugene at that time and making their products in their kitchen similar how we were but they already had products in grocery stores and in running stores. Their niche was really for people living an active lifestyle, needing quick healthy fuel in a bar that didn’t have a bunch of crap in it. I remember thinking that I wanted that to be us someday.

Where do you see yourself and your company in 5 years?

Our products now cater to a lot of people and we just want that to continue growing. We see Wild Friends being in a lot more aisles at the grocery store and having a lot bigger footprint. So in 5 years, I hope that we have accomplished that or on our way to accomplishing that.

How do you stay balanced and how do you make sure your day is successful?

Exercising is what keeps me sane.

What is your secret online tool?

There is a calendar called the Sunrise Calendar that I use to keep everything that I need to do and all of my appointments or meetings on their Google docs. I love Google docs especially when you are working with a team.

Do you have a book recommendation?

‘All marketers are liars’ by Seth Godin. I say that this is a must read for anyone that starting a business and trying to figure out how to market their products.

What is a successful marketing technique for Wild Friends?

For us, Instagram has been huge. Whether sharing photos of our products or sharing photos of our recipes, doing giveaways with other influencers or other companies or other people we looked up to that has been huge and that has been really great way to get new people to discover Wild Friends, to gain followers.

Share one thing that your customers and our listeners to know about you that you think they don’t know.

Keeley and I are at the core of Wild Friends and at the core of our products. We were just 2 teenage best friends when we started our company with a mad love for peanut butter and we turned that love into our own business.

Erika Welsh from Wild Friends

We're just 2 best friends with a mad love for peanut butter @2wildfriends #blissfulbitespodcast Click To Tweet

Where can you find Erika and Wild Friends?

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Enter our February Podcast giveaway (2 jars of Wild Friends Nut Butter, Variety pack of 7 soups from Splendid Spoon, 1 bag of Blissful Eats granola and Thinner in 30 by Jenna Wolfe) by filling out the form below AND/OR writing an iTunes review and sending a screen shot of it in an email to me!

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