‘Squirrels in chief’ go national with peanut butter brand
EUGENE, Ore. -- Two best friends from Tualatin never thought their hobby for making peanut butter “with a twist” would turn them into “accidental entrepreneurs,” but five months after launching a new brand they made it onto a national TV show.
Keeley Tillotson and Erika Welsh said they started making peanut butter their sophomore year at the University of Oregon on a rainy afternoon.
The jar of commercial peanut butter they’d been snaking out of ran out, but they had a bag of peanuts in the pantry.
Five months later and Wild Squirrel Nut Butter is on the shelves of local grocery stores.
"Wild Squirrel Nut Butter sells artisan, all natural peanut butters with a twist,” said Keeley Tillotson in the peanut butter aisle at the Market of Choice on Willamette Street in Eugene on Friday.
“The squirrel girls,” as many have started calling them around town, started making their version of peanut butter by hand and then selling jars of the stuff at local farmers markets.
"We used to come into grocery stores and just stand here at the wall of peanut butter, saying one day we'll be here some day,” said Erika Welsh as she stood next to her “co-squirrel in chief” in the aisle on Friday.
After making it onto local grocery store shelves, the squirrel girls wanted to expand, so they applied to be on the entrepreneurial TV show “Shark Tank.” And they made it.
On the show, which aired Friday, May 11, 2012, Tillotson and Welsh asked for a $50,000 investment from five angel investors so they could take Wild Squirrel Nut Butter to the next level.
In the end, four of the investors turned Wild Squirrel down; but one offered them $50,000 for a 40 percent stake in the company.
After a brief hesitation, Tillotson and Welsh accepted the offer.
The two said the show, shot months ago, has made a difference in their business.
Tillotson said they’re in the process of expanding to Alaska, Washington, Hawaii and California.
And she said they went from selling 3,500 jars of Wild Squirrel to more than 45,000.
"We want everyone in the country to know what wild squirrel is,” said Tillotson. “We want it to be a nationwide brand, and we want to be on the stores shelves just like Market of Choice."