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|Raising the bar: Local family builds company on love, legacy and peanut butter|
|San Diego Communities - PB/Mission Beach|
|Written by Kendra Hartmann, writing for sdnews.com|
|Friday, 18 February 2011 15:43|
Bill Keith says he grew up a “true hippie.” He and his family traveled around in a converted school bus called “The Fun Bus” for six years while his father, a nutritionist, lectured at universities. The oldest of 13 brothers and sisters, Keith says he and his siblings were often shuffled on stage after lectures to perform musical numbers, prompting his father to refer to them as the “Keith Trapp Family Singers,” a reference to the movie classic “The Sound of Music.” At night, the family stayed in campgrounds, where the children were educated under the stars, learning patience, as well as arithmetic, as their father lectured them for hours.
Today, it’s hard to imagine the tall, blond Pacific Beach resident living a gypsy lifestyle. The 28-year-old CEO of a thriving company, Keith exudes a kind of energy that has clearly served him well. To say that his family’s company, which created the Perfect Foods Bar, started as a modest operation would be an understatement. Keith’s father, Bud, created the original recipe by rolling peanut butter and honey together with natural supplements. After proclaiming it was “perfect,” he started selling them to friends in Ziploc bags.
“Dad was never really compensated for his ideas,” Keith said. “He was always of the impression that you shouldn’t put a financial burden on people that wanted to eat well.”
About five years ago, Bud, a former bodybuilder who loved the sun, got skin cancer, sending the family into financial collapse. Keith, then a student at Humboldt State University, returned home to help his mother support his 12 younger siblings.
“I had my back against the wall. The family was in trouble, and we had to come together and make some choices,” he said. “We looked at our options and took a gamble on these bars dad used to make.”
Keith made a business plan based on the minimal amount of business training he had in college. He went to several banks seeking loans, and came up empty handed. The business plan, he said, lasted about three weeks.
Eventually, the family decided to raise start-up capital by selling property it owned in Eureka. With the $150,000 they made on the sale, they bought mixing equipment and moved into their first warehouse. At night, the oldest siblings would mix and roll out the bars by hand, and Keith would hit the pavement during the day, trying to sell the product.
Eventually, someone took notice, and got them in the door with grocery chain Whole Foods. Since then, the Perfect Foods Bar has been on a fast track to success. Now in the $3 million-per-year category, the company churns out about 15,000 bars per day — all still rolled by hand — from its warehouse in the University Towne Center (UTC). The next project, Keith said, is to open factories in locations across the country to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and create jobs for local economies.
The business, meanwhile, is still a family affair. Keith’s sister Leigh, 25, is the vice president of the company, while sisters Charisse, 22, and Monise, 26, are the quality control manager and factory leader, respectively. Brother Zane, 21, is a product demonstrator and brother Amyas, 23, is a factory technician.
“I certainly never planned on being a ‘QC,’” Charisse said, laughing. “But everything just kind of fell into place. It’s been quite a journey.”
Monise, dusted with powder from the mixing process, added that making a product she can conscientiously back is a catalyst for hard work.
“We always felt the bar had so much potential,” she said. “The fact that I believe in the product is a huge motivator.”
Working closely with family hasn’t always been easy, especially when Keith has to crack the whip.
“There are definitely a few siblings that have been fired six or seven times, and they go through mom and magically they’re rehired,” he said, grinning. “But it’s important to us to be a legitimate company and the rules have to be fair.”
Family politics aside, the product has been climbing on to the national radar. Athletes and nutritionists praise it for being raw, organic and free of refined sugar or chemical additives, and grocers have taken notice. After signing a recent contract, the bars are now in eight of the 11 U.S. regions where Whole Foods operates, and are also sold in various other chains, such as Vitamin Cottage, Sunflower Market, GNC and Henry’s. The company, Keith said, is in a veritable “hyper growth” stage.
Bud Keith passed away in 2009, so he hasn’t been able to see the dynasty his children have built as his legacy. He has, however, lived on in the memories his sons and daughters have of their humble beginnings.
“I’ll never forget making those bars in the kitchen with my dad,” Bill Keith said. “We all remember where we came from. There have been a few critical moments when we could have folded, but it has come together because we all have the same passion: to make a product that is delicious and nutritious, and a good, positive thing.”
In a word, perfect.
This article originally appeared on sdnews.com (a media partner of SDNR).
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