When Bruce “Pic” Picot started making peanut butter, he was enrolled in a creative writing course and spending most of his time making poetry.
Eventually, the two would combine in a fifteen million dollar success story he never expected to happen.
“I just wanted an excuse to have a stall at the Friday farmer’s market, and to maybe make a bit of pocket money,” he says.
That pocket money went further than he ever imagined.
In the beginning, he did the peanut crunching himself. Now, he’s got a whole team who do the daily grind, which is useful, because Pic has macular degeneration. He’s going blind.
“Both my parents are blind; it runs in the family. I knew this was going to happen, though I’ve been assured I’ll never lose my vision completely.”
Both my parents are blind; it runs in the family. I knew this was going to happen…
Pic developed the condition younger than most, in his mid twenties. Now in his sixties, he can’t see much in the middle, but still has “pretty good” peripheral vision. He has a service dog, Fido, who helps him get around.
Fido, a black Labrador, is provided through the New Zealand Blind Foundation. He’s travelled with Pic across the country, and on a trans-Tasman flight to Australia. Unfortunately, he is restricted from going much further because of international quarantine and customs laws.
But for the most part, the two are inseparable. Pic appreciates Fido’s assistance and friendship so much, he is sponsoring the training of a service dog for someone else in need. The puppy is to be called Peanut.
“I’m really lucky to have him, and I want that for others,” says Pic. “He’s such a good dog, he’s so trustworthy. He’s a lovely companion to have, and he’s a great excuse to talk to people.”
Pic is a people person through and through. He says the only problem with travelling with Fido is that he gets an empty seat next to him– meaning he misses out on meeting a fellow passenger
“Usually I’d have someone to chat to, which I love, that’s the reason I’m traveling most of the time. Finding people to chat to.”
He does more than that. With the team taking care of the business back home, Pic is free to hop about the world, selling his peanut butter to anyone who’ll listen to his story and have a taste. And plenty have.
“Everybody eats, so being a food maker gives me an excuse to talk to anybody. They eat the peanut butter and I make it, so I’m a part of people’s lives.”
Everybody eats, so being a food maker gives me an excuse to talk to anybody.
Pic, who has never worked for anyone else and spent his life starting and running businesses, got the idea for the product when he discovered that most manufacturers were filling their spread with sugar. He hated both the practice and the taste, so he bought a second-hand nut grinder for two hundred dollars, and started making his own butter in his garage.
That was in 2007. Now, the factory in Nelson, New Zealand produces fifteen million dollars’ worth of products a year, including peanut, almond, and cashew butters. They all contain the same unique selling point – no added sugar. The factory itself is pretty special – it has a large mural of Fido on one wall.
Pic’s had a hard time handing over the reins. He loves the machinery and software, but it’s not practical for him to be on the factory floor all the time. So he spends his days spreading the word, and it’s working. The spread is now sold in twelve countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, Japan, China, the UK, and in 200 outlets in California.
And he still gets to make the most of new technology.
“It’s a hell of a good time to be blind!” he says. “I went to Israel and I got a camera that fits on your glasses. It recognises faces and converts text to speech. Amazing. And we’re only going to get more and more of that sort of thing.”
That can be helpful, because sometimes other people are not.
It’s a hell of a good time to be blind!
“I do get people getting cross with me, when they don’t realize I’m not sighted. I might accidentally skip a queue or something, and people will say things. Then I say ‘Sorry, I’m a bit blind,’ and they might go ‘Yeah, me too,’ not realizing what I actually mean!”
Meanwhile, he’s never quite given up that love of writing, and each jar of Pic’s contains a little surprise: a poem on the inside of the label.
“They’re printed under the name Bill Smith,” he says. “Bill’s a real person – he’s 103 now. But actually the poems are by me, Cliff Fell, who was my tutor when I studied creative writing, and a woman named Anne French.”
Pic wants to get started on an autobiography next. With his reduced sight, writing is one of the things he finds challenging. “I go to copy paste something and I can’t see if I’ve done the right bit, I move things around and then I’m not sure what’s left. It can take a whole day to write half a page.”
But the frustration doesn’t get him down for long.
I like who I am… and this–the blindness–is part of me.
“I like who I am,” he says. “And this – the blindness – is part of me.”
As for the peanut butter business, it continues to grow in leaps and bounds. It looks a little bit like he’s plotting world domination.
“Maybe,” he laughs. “Yes. I want Pic’s to be the best loved peanut butter in the world.”