UPDATE: Jill Van Gyn of FATSO peanut butter will face the investment dragons on the hit CBC show Dragons’ Den on the episode airing September 27.
There are a lot of nut butters out there. Fatso is different.
From buying and rebranding the business to optimizing the peanut butter recipe to reaching new buyers far from Victoria, Van Gyn shares how her entrepreneurial journey has been so far.
Get to know this local entrepreneur and her product, and learn a little about her business’s success story.
The Entrepreneur: Jill Van Gyn
Jill Van Gyn was born and raised in Victoria. While she opened a restaurant in Montreal with a couple of friends after her undergraduate degree, Fatso is her first solo business venture. And despite having a varied academic background — Van Gyn studied political science at the undergraduate level then received then received a Master’s degree from Royal Roads University — Van Gyn always found herself drawn back to the food industry.
The Product: Fatso Hybrid Peanut Butter
Van Gyn describes Fatso as an “all-natural, well-rounded” nut butter, meaning its healthy fat content doesn’t just come from one source like regular peanut butter. As well as being made with a variety of healthy plant-based fats such as organic coconut oil, avocado oil and macadamia oil to fill a market gap in terms of nutrition, Fatso fills a gap in the market regarding price.
“Shoppers have the option of inexpensive, non-natural peanut butters that tend to be higher in salt, or at the other end of the spectrum, there are the expensive other varieties of nut butter,” says Van Gyn. “Fatso fits comfortably at a price point between these two [options] and also offers a rich nutritional profile.”
The Success Story
Van Gyn bought Fatso in September 2016. She saw that the previous owners were making some business errors and it didn’t look like the company would last. As a lover of the product, she wanted to make sure it stuck around. After making that purchase, Van Gyn says she “let the company go dark for three months.”
During that time, Van Gyn worked on product testing, aimed to distinguish Fatso’s packaging and marketing, and created a brand that would speak to her desired market: athletes and really anyone interested in nutrition and healthy eating.
“During that time, I worked with nutritionists to optimize the Fatso recipe. Also, I was making the peanut butter out of a restaurant for a while and supplying to my gym. It was a great test market — these are people who are into active lifestyles and healthy eating — so I saw how my target buyers would respond to the product. It took off there,” says Van Gyn.
Increasing brand awareness was essential. Van Gyn reached out to social media influencers and attended fitness events to find people “living the Fatso lifestyle,” helping her create a strong, authentic brand. She visited grocery stores and, just about every weekend, demoed her product in stores.
Van Gyn also knew what she wanted in terms of Fatso’s rebranding. “I wanted Fatso’s packaging to be sleeker and more bold. If you go to a grocery store and walk down the nut butter aisles, there’s lots of colour and dynamic packaging,” says Van Gyn. “I wanted to make sure Fatso stood out. We went the “paper bag” route — because Fatso’s labelling is so monochromatic, it stands out like crazy.”
Expanding beyond Victoria wasn’t easy — she recalls the whole thing feeling insurmountable after failed pitches to stores. But she persevered and brought Fatso to Vancouver in April 2017. She thinks her “big break” was when she first got Fatso on shelves in Whole Foods by summer 2017. Today, Fatso is sold in stores across Canada and consumers from all over North America order from the online store.
And the Fatso success story has only just begun. Van Gyn was recently in Toronto filming for the upcoming season of Dragons’ Den (she doesn’t know yet if her segment will be aired). She also has long-term goals of pushing Fatso into the USA and extending her product line to include new flavours, bars and single-serve packages.
Van Gyn thinks Vancouver Island has an incredible entrepreneurial spirit and, if it’s in keeping with the businessperson’s goals, there’s no reason to think small.
“Vancouver Island has an amazing reputation for entrepreneurial endeavours and for amazing product development,” says Van Gyn. “I think that living on an Island comes with its challenges, and as Islanders, we really rise to that and take on those challenges. A unique entrepreneurial spirit comes out of Vancouver Island.”
For more information about Fatso, visit eatfatso.com.