When Ed and Lea Arnold first started making peanut brittle as a unique holiday gift for a friend, they had no inkling that their love of cooking blended with a handcrafted recipe would become the ingredients for a future business, Vermont Peanut Brittle.
As making peanut brittle became an annual event, their list of recipients expanded each year until the couple finally heeded the message from friends and family that they should “sell this stuff.” They attended classes at the Vermont Food Venture Center where they met VtSBDC Advisor Heidi Krantz who was teaching “How to Start a Small Business.” The Arnolds continued to attend monthly classes that Heidi hosted on various business topics. She provided strategic advice to help them get started and encouraged their participation in local farmers’ markets. Today, Heidi continues to provide them with guidance on business growth strategies.
Over the past few years, Vermont Peanut Brittle’s offerings have grown to include several flavors of peanut brittle, plus Maple Ginger Tea (pre-packaged and FDA-approved), Maple Lemonade (pending FDA approval), and Maple Ginger Jerky, a vegan snack with ginger root and infused with maple syrup.
Before the disruption from COVID-19, Ed and Lea had achieved their goal of selling product at seven Vermont stores and participating in five different farmers’ markets. They planned to continue at this pace until they could retire from their day jobs and turn their attention to Vermont Peanut Brittle full time.
“When we first started our business, there was a long waiting list for the St. J’s market,” explains Ed. “We waited for years until we finally got our own spot. Not only is it profitable, but it has been a wonderful experience. We have made friends with many of our neighboring vendors. We are grateful for the opportunity especially now during the pandemic.”
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has taken its toll with a rash of store closures and a pause on many farmers’ markets in the state. However, their product is still on shelves at two retail locations and the St. Johnsbury Farmers’ Market. The market has been a welcome relief for the couple, who enjoy the customer interactions that a farmers’ market provides.
Ed and Lea have observed changes to the farmers market as a result of the pandemic: vendors must be spaced 15’ apart; there is no music; no benches for people to sit on; and they are not allowed to distribute samples, a mainstay of their sales approach. Still, Ed and Lea have faced these challenges with resilience and positivity. With an increased awareness among consumers that buying local helps bolster the community, the Arnolds have been able to add items to their product line and increase sales enough to completely cover their costs. Ed and Lea remain confident about Vermont Peanut Brittle and the future expansion of product distribution, including online sales one day.
“Our business benefits significantly from being at the farmers’ market,” says Lea. “We have our ‘regulars” who buy 10 to 12 boxes at a time for gift giving. And for a lot of kids, ours is their first taste of peanut brittle – it’s so much fun to be part of their first experience.”
Ed and Lea Arnold’s business has grown significantly since they started out in VtSBDC’s Start Your Own Business class. From their early work with Heidi, the business has been able to continue selling through the pandemic, with plans for growth in the future. Participating in the St. Johnsbury Farmers’ Market has allowed the Arnolds to stay connected to the client base that inspires them. Ed and Lea Arnold maintain a bright outlook for the future and look forward to long-term growth for their business.
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