Wholesome Goodness Made from Scratch
Not many people start a business before graduating from college, but Kent Arnold isn’t most people. He and his father, John, officially started Mixed Up Nut Butter on May 13, 2020, four days before his on-line commencement and five months before the Covid-delayed, in-person ceremony. As VP of Product Development and Manufacturing, Arnold is responsible for each of the company’s six distinctive flavors.
Arnold credits his proficiency in the kitchen to growing up in New York, surrounded by different cultures, and travelling to Europe with his family. “I’m very grateful for parents who wanted to show me the world at a young age,” he said. Arnold’s family also made sure the kids helped around the house and that included food preparation. While still in high school, Arnold made homemade hummus with almond butter instead of tahini. “It’s one thing to make your own meals but another to make something you’d normally buy in a store,” he said.
In his teens, Arnold became more concerned with personal fitness and in trying to transform his body, he paid more attention to what he was eating. He began cooking healthy meals for himself and when he moved to Vermont, he got a job in a nutritional supplement store. “The more I learned about supplements, the more I realized it was more important for people to change their lifestyles,” he said. “I became less interested in selling supplements and more interested in helping people have healthy habits.”
After a semester of majoring in computer science at Champlain College and another semester of applied mathematics at Stony Brook, Arnold transferred to UVM to study business. A class in food science led him to think about the restaurant industry and he spent a year working at Bluebird Barbecue. His UVM degree had a marketing concentration with a global business theme which allowed him to travel to Spain.
Arnold said he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, starting with a childhood business shoveling driveways. He credits an entrepreneurship program at his high school with helping him develop the confidence to head out on his own. Students in the program got to talk to other entrepreneurs and were tasked with creating their own business. Arnold came up with the idea of a mobile bike repair service.
Arnold always thought that he would start a business of his own, figuring that it would be based around either food, nutrition, or personal training, and assuming that it would be a side business while he worked for someone else, but fate intervened. Arnold’s father had found a mixed nut butter brand he liked at Healthy Living. It was expensive, but he really liked it and was unhappy when it was discontinued. Arnold asked for the ingredients and prepared his own version. “He wasn’t humoring me when he said it was better,” Arnold said. “He’s been a tech entrepreneur for years and he thought we should try to sell it on Amazon.”
Father and son launched their plan right before Covid hit. Arnold had a digital marketing internship which was scheduled to turn into a full-time job after graduation, but Covid caused the company to cut almost their entire marketing department. Arnold was already having second thoughts about the nine-to-five world, but this gave him the opportunity to see what he could do with his product.
The first mixed nut butter to hit the market was made with pecans, almonds, and cashews. Since it replaced Arnold’s father’s preferred nut butter it was named New Favorite. The most popular of the six varieties is Maple Creemee which mixes maple syrup with cashews and pecans. Arnold admits it’s not his favorite because he prefers more complex flavors, but he said the fact that it tastes like healthy cookie butter is probably the reason for its success.
Mixed Up Nut Butter has never used peanuts. That’s partially because of the prevalence of peanut allergies but also to differentiate the company from other nut butters. The result is that their nut butters are more expensive, but Arnold believes they are well worth the price. He has tried to keep Vermont-themed names including Maple Bliss and Mud Season. Although there are many ways to combine the nut butters with other food, Arnold finds himself just eating it by the spoonful. “There’s a lot going on with the flavors,” he said, “so you don’t really need something else to go with it.”
Mixed Up Nut Butter has made the transition from on-line sales to brick and mortar stores.
“E-commerce was difficult because we were a new brand and we were expensive,” Arnold said. It took a while to get things going but in May of 2021, a year after the company launched, the Vermont Country Deli in Brattleboro asked if they were willing to sell to retailers. That had been the long-range plan, but Arnold decided to pursue it further and he began taking the product to various events starting with the Vermont Summer Festival in Ludlow. By the end of the year, almost 20 stores were carrying the nut butters and by the end of 2022, that number was up to 200 stores, mostly in Vermont.
Arnold decided to expand the company’s market by attending regional trade shows and soon, Mixed Up Nut Butter was sold in stores in Maine and New Hampshire. The Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City expanded their market even further. Arnold is still the only full-time employee although he has part-time workers on the manufacturing crew and a graphic designer who works on contract.
The company’s growth coincided with a call from someone who asked if Mixed Up Nut Butter would do a private label. That was enough impetus for Arnold to move the company into a commercial kitchen at the Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick where they’ve been since July of 2021. If the company continues to grow, they may invest in their own facility, which could lead to more frequent production dates, more stable employment for the manufacturing team, and potentially lower prices for the product.
Arnold is hoping to grow the company over time. “We have a long way to go,” he said. “Especially when you’re doing retail it takes a while to see if something works and if it doesn’t, you have to keep trying.” Initially, he concentrated on finding retail venues in Vermont, but the small population of the state and the price of the product proved to be a challenge. Since then, he has spent more time reaching out to stores in eastern Massachusetts and is now trying to find New York City venues. “There’s a lot of learning along the way,” he said. “Part of the challenge is not getting discouraged. If this was easy, everyone would be doing it. Our company is different from other nut butters so there are some challenges but it’s worth the effort.”
For more information visit MixedUpNutButter.com.
Phyl Newbeck writes for a wide variety of Vermont newspapers and magazines. She is the author of Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.