How One Family Entrepreneur Brought America’s Oldest Peanut Butter Company into the 21st Century

Krema Products Company is the oldest peanut butter company in the U.S. Krema became a sister brand of Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter in the 1990s. Now the daughter of the original owner is bringing the company into the 21st century. (Above (L) Kimmi Wernli of Crazy Richards Peanut Butter Company and (R) Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN)

 

 

The Krema Products Company, originally The American Refining Company, formed in 1898 in Columbus, Ohio. In 1908 the name changed to Krema when it began making peanut butter and nut products and opened its first retail store.* Krema’s peanut butter was all natural; with no added salt, sugar, or preservatives, and made with one simple ingredient: peanuts.

Today, that same product—natural peanut butter made simply from peanuts—is marketed under the banner of Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter as “natural peanut butter without the clutter—no added salt, sugar, or oils.”

Kimmi Wernli, wife and mother of four, took the helm in January of 2016 as owner and president of Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter.

Her story begins at the age of six when her father, Richard Sonksen, decided to leave a hectic career in corporate banking in Southeast Asia and move his family to Ohio.

Kimmi’s grandfather co-owned an advertising and consulting firm specializing in amusement parks in Ohio. His firm handled the advertising for an amusement park company that several years earlier had acquired the Krema Products Company in an ill-fated effort to diversify. “It was as if nobody wanted to run this peanut butter company because it was not making a profit,” said Kimmi.

But Sonksen saw potential and bought Krema Products Company in 1988. In a few years, Kimmi’s father saw a degree of success by growing his distribution in Ohio. “But it was very hard for small businesses to get onto grocery store shelves,” said Kimmi.

Looking for a partner, Sonksen found and bought another natural peanut butter company in Pennsylvania, Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter.

Sonksen ran both companies simultaneously with their own labels, but with the same single ingredient peanut butter inside. Distribution increased throughout the Midwest and up and down the East Coast. Sales grew, too.

“My whole childhood was connected to peanut butter,” said Kimmi. “Every day after high school, I would drive to our peanut butter office and warehouse. I’ve helped with everyday communication skills with customers, answered phones, taken orders, handled unhappy customers, learned to drive a forklift, move pallets; basically how to run every part of the business.”

After marriage, starting a family and moving around with careers, Kimmi and her husband officially moved back to Ohio to help manage the family company.

        (Kimmi Wernli at the AND-FNCE Conference in Boston in 2016.)

“Something inside of me ignited, and I decided this family peanut butter company was something I loved and wanted to continue building upon my father’s legacy and bringing it up to speed with today’s generation,” said Kimmi.

In that first year, the company rebranded and consolidated all peanut butter products under the name of Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter Company. Marketing materials were updated and the website got a modern look and feel.

Two key strategies put in place in 2016 set the stage for future growth. One is the emphasis on social media engagement.

“My dad built this company in the ‘90s when having a strong distribution system was the key to success. I was fortunate to start with a broad platform of distributors and brokers and I can confidently say our products are available in every state in the country”, said Kimmi.

But, Kimmi said, when people looked at Crazy Richard’s scant social media accounts, they thought her company must be new.

“When I told them we had national distribution, they were surprised. I knew we had to get more active on social media,” said Kimmi.

Response to Crazy Richard’s contemporary website, beautiful food photos and storytelling is paying off. “It’s helped us gain new customers and strengthened existing customers. People comment they’ve eaten our peanut butter for 15 or 20 years, and now they see the faces behind the product,” said Kimmi.

A second priority is the forming of the Healthy Kids, Happy Future project as a way to give back to those in need in her community. “We’re a family-owned business, and it’s important to us to give to families. When I learned that one in four children in Ohio leaves school with no food and go home to no dinner, I was astonished,” said Kimmi.

Through Healthy Kids, Happy Future, Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter partners with nonprofits, churches and children’s charities in the area by donating time and product. Ten percent of their profits are donated to children’s health organizations.

Crazy Richard’s 2017 goal is to have one branded product on grocery store shelves throughout the country. Even though you can still find jars of Krema Peanut Butter on store shelves, by the end of 2017 all of these peanut butter jars will switch and bear the new updated label : Crazy Richard’s 100% Peanuts.

In just a little over a year, Kimmi says she realizes more each day the value of her product and the ways it can benefit others. Everything our company stands for is exactly who I am,” said Kimmi.

*The name Krema comes from the first letters of American Refining Company spelled backwards and replacing C with a K.

***Article originally published on the National Peanut Board’s website