Teen entrepreneur’s health food stocked at 180 stores

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Abby Kircher started a business before many kids her age had taken their SATs.

A self-described foodie from Mooresville, North Carolina, Abby started working on an all-natural nut butter in the summer of 2015 as an alternative to some of the artificial peanut butters on the market. She was 15 years old.

“At first it was just going to be for myself maybe to give to friends and family for gifts, but once I saw the reaction I was shocked,” she said. “Everyone wanted it. They were even willing to buy it if I sold it. They couldn’t believe it was so good for how healthy it was.”

Abby went to her mom and suggested they start a business. At the time, she said, she thought it would just be a hobby while she got through high school.

Now 17 years old, Abby is a successful entrepreneur, and her product — Abby’s Better Nut Butter — is on the shelves of more than 180 stores across North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, New York and Tennessee. That includes the Earth Fare in Johnson City.

Abby’s Better Nut Butter now consists of six flavors: coconut cashew, honey almond, date pecan, bourbon maple walnut, coffee almond and strawberry cashew.

Abby and her mom, Anna, started selling the nut butter at the farmer’s market in Davidson, North Carolina, about 20 minutes away from Mooresville.

“We were blown away by the response,” she said. “We sold out of jars and jars and jars every week we went there and we realized it could be a lot bigger than we expected.”

Drawing on help from family friends, Abby’s Better Nut Butter eventually had all the trappings of a professional-grade product: a label, a logo and a website.

“It just kind of exploded from there,” she said.

Abby and her mom started approaching stores to see if they would be interested in putting the nut butter on the shelves. At the same time, representatives from grocery stores started approaching them after seeing them at the markets they visited.

“We sent email after email after email and we called them and we met with them,” Abby said. “Face to first at first, because that’s how we believed would be the best way to get in.”

A representative from Earth Fare indicated the company puts a premium on attracting and recruiting local vendors, and the company continues to source local vendors after a store has been constructed.

“We actually have a local vendor fair prior to each of the openings in each of the markets that we do,” said Jared Orme, grocery category manager with Earth Fare, “and we connect with those communities and any brands produced in those communities to really take those items and (make) them available to the consumers so they can connect with the local markets.”

Products sourced from the community typically have to follow a couple of criteria before they can appear in the store — the ingredients must be fresh and the pricing must be comparable to the cost of items already on the shelves.

Vendors are also given the opportunity to set up booths in the store to engage with people who visit the supermarket.

At many of the stores where the butter appears, Abby and members of her family will consistently go out and “demo” the nut butter, allowing customers to sample the product and ask questions.

Neither Abby nor her parents have a background in business, so they had to learn as they went along.

“It takes a lot of patience,” Abby said. “We knew we wouldn’t have the answers to everything, and so we just tried to surround ourselves with as (many) business-savvy people as we could and ask questions. We would never try to act like we had all the answers because we knew we didn’t.”

Abby graduated home school June 2 and plans on taking a gap year before college to work on her business. She hopes to attend college somewhere near home and possibly major in business and minor in either English or journalism.

She has a suggestion for other young entrepreneurs trying to make it:

“If you have an idea and you’re passionate about it and it solves a problem, just go for it.” Abby said. “You don’t need to have a background in business, you don’t need to have gone to school. You just need to have a passion about what you’ve created, and there’s always ways to learn and never stop trying.”

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