Garage Band: Daughter's plant-based protein choice inspires local business

Nutty Sisters makes, markets nut butter

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Having a daughter that prefers peanut butter over steak provided a Marion entrepreneur with the inspiration for a business.

Brandy Vorhies owns Nutty Sisters, which makes freshly ground artisan peanut, sunflower and almond butters. The two-year-old business sells its products at farmers markets in Cedar Rapids and Marion, craft shows and online through its Facebook page.

“Our five-year-old daughter loves peanut butter,” Vorhies said. “Our older daughter will sit down and eat a steak with us, but our younger daughter has never been a meat eater. When she was three years old, we realized that she preferred to get her protein from peanut butter.

“I grew up on a farm where meat and potatoes were staples of our diet.”

Vorhies was looking for nut butters that did not contain added oil or sugar.

“We were buying a bunch of homemade nut butters from a number of different vendors, including Fresh Market and Hy-Vee” she said. “We wanted to buy peanut butter that was natural and good for you.”

Vorhies, who started making nut butter as a hobby, was ready for a new entrepreneurial venture in 2015.

“I had been doing direct-sales of Lia Sophia jewelry for almost 10 years,” she said. “The company told us on Dec. 1, 2014, that we were not to sell jewelry after Dec. 31, 2014.

“I had worked at Farm Credit Services in Hiawatha for about five years. I quit my job to follow my dream of entrepreneurship and focus full time on jewelry sales.”

Vorhies, who was single when she started selling for Lia Sophia, married and had two daughters as her business grew. After that business ended, she tried selling jewelry for another company.

“I struggled with it for about five months, but it was really hard,” Vorhies said. “I was a stay-at-home mom and making homemade nut butter was something that I could do as a business.”

Vorhies bought a previously owned commercial grade nut grinder for $1,000 in June 2015 and launched Nutty Sisters at the Marion Farmers Market in September 2015. With her previous direct sales venture, Vorhies had developed some contacts to do indoor craft vendor fairs through the fall and winter months.

“We started with four basic flavors of peanut and sunflower butters at the Marion Farmers Market,” she said. ”As we entered 2016, we added chocolate flavors and almond butter.”

Vorhies checked with the Iowa Department of Public Health and learned that a food processing license was not required.

“We’re not cooking it, we’re not baking it, and it does not need to be refrigerated,” she said. “There is no change of temperature. We are just grinding the nuts and unsweetened chocolate chips.”

Vorhies sold nut butters at farmers markets in 2016. Producing the right amount of 16-ounce containers to assure that the nut butters were fresh each week was an initial challenge.

Containers of peanut and sunflower butter sell for $6. Almond butter sells for $12, due to the higher cost of the almonds.

“While nut butters have a recommended shelf life of four to six months once the nut has been processed, we did not want to hold product for a week until to the next market,” she said. “We sell about 200 containers of nut butter at each Downtown Cedar Rapids Farmers Market and a little less at the Marion Farmers Market.”

When she launched Nutty Sisters, Vorhies had to come up with a label for her products.

“For the first six months, we designed our own lime green and gray label with the minimum information — name, address and product ingredients,” she said. “After six months, we had the money to pay a graphic designer to create a really nice label. We also bought a banner and business cards.

“We wanted our daughters involved, so the label has a silhouette of them standing next to each other.”

Nutty Sisters will wrap up its second farmers market season in coming weeks, and Vorhies is planning sales at indoor craft fairs through the fall and winter months. The company also has online sales through customers who learn about it on Facebook and drive to Vorhies’s home to pick up product.

“Since this is my full-time job, I’m flexible and able to meet people at the grocery store or let them stop by my home on Saturday if they are working during the week,” she said. “We probably have people text us several times a week asking to pick up nut butter.”

Based on her initial experience last year, Vorhies hopes to return as a guest vendor at NewBo City Market in November and December. She also is making plans for next year’s farmers markets.

“Now that my youngest daughter is starting kindergarten next week, I can consider expanding the business,” she said. “I have been approached by the manager of a local chain grocery store about carrying my nut butters. I told him that I needed to wait until both of my daughters are in school.

“I’ve also been approached by some area small businesses about carrying our products.”

While pleased that Nutty Sisters has been a business success, Vorhies finds other aspects of the venture rewarding.

“I really enjoy meeting and talking with customers,” she said. “That goes back to growing up on a farm and selling pumpkins at a roadside stand each year with my brother.

“I was able to pay for most of my college expenses with the money I made from pumpkin sales.”

l “Garage Band” looks at business owners working their way through the concept and startup process. If you know someone we should speak with, contact michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a glance

l Business: Nutty Sisters

l Owner: Brandy Vorhies

l Address: 540 34th Ave., Marion

l Phone: (319) 350-8833

l Email: mbvorhies@gmail.com

l Web address: Facebook.com/nuttysistersnutbutter

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