Pic's Peanut Butter World

Pic Picot isn’t just a dreamer, he’s a doer. And sitting in the office at Pic’s Peanut Butter World in Stoke, the architecturally designed factory/spiritual homeland/tourist attraction that was opened in 2019, it’s amazing to see just how much he’s done.

While most of the free tour is dedicated to explaining the process and provenance of his hugely popular peanut butter range, a good chunk of it is dedicated to his life story.

“I believe you can put a life together from seemingly unrelated stuff. But you just need to keep doing things. You can’t just sit on your arse waiting for a good idea to come along. Just do something. The market will guide you and tell you whether you’re doing the right things.”

Before peanut butter, Picot ran a sailing school and he believes there are a few sailing lessons that can be applied to business, many of which he’s included in his recently published book.

“You’re sailing along and there’s the headland over there but there’s no point in getting too involved in the detail until you get closer. You need to be as prepared as you possibly can, but you also need to know that you can’t be completely ready for whatever is going to come along.”

He enjoyed being a captain and taking responsibility for the people on the boat. And he also likes being a “captain of industry” and taking responsibility for the direction of the company.

“I think back on opening this place and what a risk it was. When it was about to open I thought ‘God, we’re really putting ourselves out there.’ We had some architecture award guys wandering through at one point and they were scratching their heads and saying ‘why would a factory have all these fancy things on it’. But it has worked. It is doing what it was meant to do and engaging people with what we do.”

Picot’s goal has always been to “make it real and not boring and the key to being boring is to do what everyone else does”.

“I’ve been obsessed with getting one person at a time really enthusiastic about us. I’d rather have one person really enthused than have 100,000 say ‘I might buy that some time.’ That one person who’s excited about it will infect their friends through word of mouth … People come in and do this tour for free and see how it’s all done and and they say ‘that’s pretty cool, I like these guys, I want to give them my money, even though it costs a bit more.’”

Business success is not just about going to business school, he says. It’s about understanding human behaviour and rolling with the punches.

“I have an idea about failure that you never fail. Everything I’ve ever done has been perfect because it’s got me to where I am now. You might think ‘if that hadn't happened, my life would be completely different’, but you have no way of knowing if it would be a better life or a worse life.”

One thing he is pretty sure of is that Pic’s wouldn’t have been as successful if he’d started the company in a bigger city.

“The community support is extraordinary. People in Nelson feel really proud of this. And they seeded this. I would get on the plane and people would say ‘I’ve got a jar of your peanut butter that I’m taking down to my relatives in Christchurch’.”

He says lots of people tell him they used to buy his peanut butter at the Nelson market, where he set up a stand in 2007.

“And you know that ever since they’ve been telling their friends about it. Getting out there and being seen from the get go is so important.”

Sir Paul Callaghan once said that New Zealand needed to become a place where talent wanted to live. That is increasingly the case as the perceptions of the country continue to improve and our tech industry continues to develop, and Picot thinks it’s also the case in Nelson, especially in the food sector.

“Nelson is now a centre of smart people. And we are getting people from other parts of the country. They want to come here.”

He points to the example of Volker Kuntzsch, the new CEO of Cawthron Institute.

“I had a meeting with him in Auckland four days after he resigned as the CEO of Sanford. I said ‘come to Nelson’.”

Picot says he can’t claim responsibility for that decision, but “it might have planted a seed”. And it seems many more provincial seeds have been planted as Covid-19 and the ensuing remote working boom saw more people considering a move out of the city. Bill Gates and Paul Allen moved a small company called Microsoft to Seattle early on in its life, and it grew into the biggest company in the world. That created a ripple effect and Seattle is now a major global tech hub. While Picot says his business is “not monstrous”, it’s big for Nelson and it now employs over 50 people, so there’s no telling what a few talented people can create around them.

“I’ve been here for 27 years. I had a year here in 1972 as a young hippie when my van broke down and my ex-wife and daughter moved here so I came down from Auckland to be around her as she was growing up. It’s the sea, the Sounds, and the fact that liniment and scroggin country is just out your back door, really. It’s an amazing place to raise children and there are so many outdoor opportunities.”

Picot believes the region could potentially adopt his own one-by-one marketing strategy if it wants to create more economic activity and suggests funding clever scientists, artists, influencers, business leaders and thinkers to come here for a residence.

He also thinks it would help if kids spent more time outdoors learning to “create stuff from nothing,” which is actually a pretty good definition of entrepreneurism.

He admits the growth of Pic’s has been, like Picot’s life, quite organic. But as it has grown, more structure has been added.

“There are all sorts of meetings going on. I feel really lucky we’ve got a great CEO and management team and I can pick and choose the aspects of the business I get involved with. I love doing the hands-on stuff.”

He also loves helping out other fledgling businesses and often the best thing he can do is make introductions.

“It’s easy and those introductions can sometimes be the most valuable things in people’s lives. You never know what they might lead to.”

He’s also spearheaded an initiative to connect local food producers to the right equipment with the launch of the Food Factory, four commercial kitchens that can be hired by the day or by the week.

“We’ve had Proper Crisps, Little Beauties [freeze dried fruits] and King Salmon in there. I’m trying to make a contribution by providing something that’s needed.”

He says there are a growing number of Nelson Tasman food producers finding ways to add value to what may have traditionally been viewed as commodities and a big part of that is telling the story of the product - and, in many cases, telling the story of the region where it was produced. Mark A’Court from Nelson Fresh Choice has been instrumental in this, Picot says.

“He’s been an amazing supporter of ours from the beginning and he does really cool things with food startups.”

Picot believes “connections are everything” in business - whether for potential collaborators or customers - but they can only be formed by getting out into the community.

“A lot of producers are so accustomed to having a truckie turn up, haggle over the price and take away whatever they've been working their guts out for. They never actually see how much their work is appreciated by customers.”

As an example, he says they had over 5000 people through the doors during the factory’s opening weekend and they invited some of their peanut suppliers from Australia over for the occasion.

“One of them stood by the door and shook hands with everyone and he was blown away by how much his peanuts were appreciated.”

A growing number of Nelson businesses are also finding ways to reduce their impacts on the planet.

“Caring for the environment has to be our number one concern,” he says.

For Pic’s, it’s a matter of monitoring everything and “reducing, reducing, reducing”. And if it can’t be reduced, it will compensate for it.

“At the moment our biggest carbon impact is freight. We’re bringing peanuts from the other side of the world and we’re bringing in glass jars. You toss up between using glass or a lighter material like plastic and it’s a diabolical choice.”

That’s why the idea of growing peanuts in New Zealand is so exciting to him. He says if they are able to grow peanuts in Northland, which they are currently trialling, it could spend $10 million in New Zealand that it’s currently spending overseas.

“That would keep me amused for another 10 years,” he says (he is also planning on some posthumous amusement by having small bags filled with his ashes handed out to guests at his funeral so they can decide what to do with him).

He believes businesses are in a far better position to make an environmental difference than individual consumers, simply because they have more scale, they can have more impact by providing better options and they have more leverage to force change among their suppliers or competitors.

“If we’re looking to do partnerships or associations with other companies, one of the first things we look at is their carbon footprint and that they’re doing everything they can to reduce their impact.”

While Picot is getting older - and, due to macular degeneration, blinder - he still abides by his philosophy of doing things and seeing where those things lead him. Rather than wait for someone to publish his book, he published it himself; he’s knocked off a few Great Walks (and met an interesting policy analyst on his last trip); he’s given up sugar and carbs; and he’s giving lots of talks to try and inspire others to try and replicate his success, even though he can’t read anymore (“a lot of people would say getting a decent handicap is really useful as a speaker.”).

“There’s a waiter at my mum’s retirement village who also organises events and he asked me if I could open for some comedians. For some reason, he thought I could do it. It’s probably the scariest thing in the world to stand up in front of lots of people and try to be funny. So I said yes.”

And saying yes continues to serve Picot and the company that bears his name very well indeed.