Meet the Yorkshire man so mad about peanut butter he decided to set up his own business making the stuff
Henry Wilson can’t remember a time when he didn’t eat peanut butter. Now he has started a business making his own from his mum’s kitchen in Ilkley. Lucy Oates reports. Pictures by James Hardisty
A few years ago, having sampled pretty much every brand of peanut butter available on the market, Henry WIlson decided to have a go at making his own.
What he produced was so well received by his family and friends that they persuaded him to set up his own ‘hobby business’.
Fast forward three years and Henry is now producing up to 500 jars of his Contains Nuts-branded peanut butter every month and hoping to turn his passion for peanut butter into fully fledged business venture.
Henry, 33, from Ilkley recalls: “I’ve always had a healthy addiction to peanut butter, especially since the new natural peanut butters have grown in popularity.
“I was intrigued to know how it was made so I started doing some research, finding different ideas and recipes. I started making it myself as an experiment really. I decided to buy a large batch of peanuts and jars, and gave it out to friends and family. A lot of people liked it and so it became a hobby business, but it was always something I did in the evenings and at weekends. I never thought it was going to be something I did full-time.”
Henry carried on making peanut butter in his spare time but scaled back production during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there were fewer opportunities to sell his goods at food markets and events.
“It very much took a back seat but, as things have settled down, I’ve looked at it again. It’s something I enjoy doing and I’m passionate about the product, plus the feedback has always been overwhelmingly positive – although it’s now coming from strangers too, rather than just family and friends. That’s when you start to realise you’re onto a good thing!”
Spurred on by the popularity of his products, Henry worked with a friend based in New York to develop his branding, which he wanted to be ‘nice and simple’, explaining: “When you look at peanut butters in the supermarket they all blend into one another. I wanted to create a brand that stood out in both name and design. I want people to keep coming back but it was also important to me to create a good brand with positive impact, that helped to convey the things we do as a business.”
Contrary to Henry’s claims that he’s ‘a jack of all trades but master of none’, his background in marketing has undoubtedly been an invaluable asset in developing his growing brand. He describes himself as sporty, rather than academic, during his time at Ilkley Grammar School, adding: “I never struggled, but I never got straight As either.”
He admits to ‘falling out of love’ with education after completing his A Levels and, although he initially went to university, he soon realised it wasn’t for him and left after the first year.
After spending a few months coaching football in America, he embarked on his career in marketing.
“I worked on lead generation campaigns for different brands, and got a varied insight into how different businesses work and how they market themselves. The skills I developed were mainly in how to promote brands and communicate to target audiences, and how to pitch and sell products.”
Before setting up Contains Nuts, Henry worked with his father to develop an online marketplace for freight rates.
Despite battling a host of unforeseen challenges along the way, such as the impact of the pandemic, Brexit, the Suez Canal shipping crisis and now driver shortages and increased fuel costs, the business that Henry and his father created is up and running.
However, Henry has decided that his passion lies with peanut butter, rather than the freight industry, and is committed to building his own business.
“Working on the other business made me realise that I want to work on something I have a lot of passion for. Long-term, I want to get to a position where my focus is one hundred per cent on Contains Nuts.”
During the last year, Henry has been selling his wares at food fairs and farmers markets across the region, as well as through the website that he launched last summer. He also supplies a number of retailers in Ilkley and Leeds, a couple in London, one in Sheffield and one in Northumberland.
Although sales have been steadily increasing, Henry still produces his peanut butters in his mum’s kitchen, which means that his business’s capacity for growth is currently limited. It’s a conundrum faced by many small businesses poised to take their next step.
“My biggest challenge is storage because I don’t have space to have a large volume of ingredients and jars. At the moment, I’m producing as much as I think I’m going to need to sell online, through retailers and at the markets we attend. In other words I produce what I need to supply people in the next week or so. If I could produce more peanut butter, in a more efficient way, I could focus on selling more. It’s a chicken and egg situation that I find myself in now; it’s a balancing act, as always with these things. Most small manufacturing businesses get to this point.”
At the moment, Henry is assisted by a good friend but admits that any profits are invested back into the business to help it grow. He is justifiably proud of his brand’s ethical credentials; the peanut butter is completely natural, containing only peanuts and a little salt, and the Chocnut version is made using dairy-free, vegan chocolate. There’s also a peanut butter flavoured with chillies, which Henry claims is the ‘hottest in the world’.
“We want to be as sustainable as possible, so the glass jars are all recyclable and when you buy from our e-commerce site all of the packaging is recyclable – we don’t use plastic. There is no palm oil or preservatives in our products. As we grow, I want to look more closely at the whole supply chain . We currently buy peanuts from a UK distributor who sources them from Argentina, so I want to go right back to the farms and make sure that the people who work there are employed properly. That’s quite a challenge for a small business at the moment, but I have a very clear idea of what I want the business to be about.”
At a regional level, Henry shares ten per cent of his quarterly profits between two charities – FareShare Yorkshire, which tackles food insecurity and food waste, and Homeless Hampers, which distributes food, clothing and other essential items to homeless people in Leeds. He also donates five jars of peanut butter to FareShare Yorkshire each month, and volunteers with Homeless Hampers.
Despite the challenges of finding a way to upscale his business to a level where he can ramp up production and start to earn a living from it, Henry’s passion for peanut butter shows no sign of waning and he’s currently exploring ideas for different flavour combinations.
He said: “I really enjoy the process of creating the product, probably because I love peanut butter as much as I do. We’re a small business that started as a hobby and now I’m looking for a way to turn it into a sustainable business.”