The Plain City peanut butter business Kimmi Wernli inherited from her father is getting some updates.
An infamous Steve Jobs quote begins, “Here's to the crazy ones…” Kimmi Wernli, the second-generation owner of Crazy Richard's Peanut Butter Company in Plain City, embraces this message as she takes her family company in bold new directions while balancing her roles as CEO, wife and mother of four.
Crazy Richard's Peanut Butter sells nut-butter products made without extra salt, sugars or additives. Its peanut butter has one ingredient—peanuts. Since Wernli took over for her father in 2016, she has consolidated two companies under the Crazy Richard's brand and created a formal commitment to health education.
“We're crazy redefined—crazy enough to believe that one person can make a difference,” Wernli says.
Wernli grew up in the peanut butter business. Her father, Richard Sonksen, acquired both Krema Products Company and Crazy Richard's Peanut Butter Company when she was a child, and through grade school and into college, she worked for her family's company. After college, she moved away and married. But when Wernli's father called about seven years ago to tell her he might be looking to sell the business, she and her husband decided to move back to Ohio and become more actively involved. She worked part-time until her kids were in school, and in 2016 took over as owner and CEO of the business.
“It was just a part of who I was, and it was something I had grown up with and a product I believed in and loved so much,” she says. “I couldn't expect anyone to try as hard as I would try.”
Jane Grote Abell, founding family member and chairwoman of the board for Donatos Pizza, serves as Wernli's mentor and understands the unique bond with a family business. “It's what you know, and it's in your blood, and it's all you think about when you get up and go to sleep,” Abell says.
As Wernli stepped into the leadership position, her parents accepted a church mission position in Seoul, South Korea, which gave her the creative freedom to establish her own vision for the company. One of Wernli's first actions was to consolidate the two brands operating within the company: Krema and Crazy Richard's. Her father (not the original Richard of Crazy Richard's) maintained both brand names for customer recognition, but the product was the same.
“It made sense in a lot of different ways to consolidate into one brand,” Wernli says. Market research showed that Krema had more shelf presence and distribution, but that Crazy Richard's was growing and outpacing Krema. The decision to eliminate Krema and move forward under the Crazy Richard's name also aligned with the company culture Wernli wanted to build.
“We were excited about launching this line of crazy healthy products. They're crazy simple. They're crazy good for you,” says Wernli.
The company pulled all remaining Krema from shelves and donated it by the end of 2017, but Wernli says since then sales have increased month over month.
Wernli also created a more defined program for health education—the Healthy Kids, Happy Future Project. Through this program, Crazy Richard's donates time, products and 10 percent of profits to causes that promote children's wellness.
“We had always been a kind of purpose-driven company,” Wernli says. “It was part of our DNA, but it didn't have a name or a structure or anything holding us accountable for the service we were doing in the community.”
Wernli also spearheads other efforts to promote health education. When the American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines around introducing peanut products to infants in 2017, Crazy Richard's partnered with local juice bar Alchemy to host an event to educate Columbus bloggers and foodies. Alexis Joseph, co-owner of Alchemy and founder of the food, wellness and lifestyle blog Hummusapien, respects that Wernli “cares about things other than ‘business is business.' ” Joseph also uses Crazy Richard's nut butter at home. “It's an awesome, locally-made product,” she says.
In 2017, Crazy Richard's earned a Women-Owned Business Certification and became a Certified B Corporation, meaning it meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. Wernli says the company is also working on a new product that will extend it beyond the peanut-butter category.
“Kimmi is a very forward thinker but always has the heart of the business in front, which is really about people,” says Abell. “She's always thinking about what consumers need, but is very passionate about how it impacts her people, culture and leaders in her company.”
Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer.