Around 2002, the world as we know it changed. That’s when the Natural Peanut Butter Mixer came on the scene. Sure, it’s a little thing. But sometimes, it’s the little things that can smooth out life’s hills and valleys.
Bob Witmer is the guy responsible. At the time, he was managing a local non-profit, but he’d come up with a couple of good ideas that made great products. They’re all like the Natural Peanut Butter Mixer: solutions to the small things that make you crazy.
Before Bob brought out the mixer, coping with natural peanut butter was a hassle. Sure, everyone knew natural peanut butter was better for you, because it was just peanuts and salt. No unpronounceable chemicals in it, nothing fancy. But getting the peanut butter well mixed, and keeping it that way was a hassle. Use a spoon, and you lose peanut butter, even if you scrape it clean after mixing. And a knife didn’t quite do the job either. As Bob says, “No matter how you try it, without the mixer, it was a messy job.”
The Witmer family, though, went through a lot of peanut butter, especially when the children were younger. And they believe that natural foods are best, and avoid chemicals and additives as much as they can. “You’ll see on the market now peanut butters that are called ‘natural’ but stay mixed,” notes Bob. “Trust me, that’s not natural peanut butter.”
Now Bob’s a modest guy. Both he and his wife, Waunita, are very quiet, very gracious folks. And it’s easy to see that although they love to talk about peanut butter stirrers, and family, and how they brought those two things together, they don’t want to be seen as boasting about themselves.
He’s gently self-deprecating when he talks about the various things he tried on the path to developing the Natural Peanut Butter Mixer. And his wife Waunita, laughs too, as he recalls the ‘product development process.’
“Oh, I tried all kinds of things. Anything I thought would both move the oil down to the bottom of the jar, and ride along the bottom of the jar to move the peanut butter around. I tried a coat hanger, a handle from a crank window, a piece of heavy wire twisted into a spiral, all kinds of things until I was able to settle on something that worked, and worked well, consistently,” said Bob. Waunita raises a tactful eyebrow, and somehow, Country Life knows the ‘test stages’ of things weren’t quite that cut and dried. But they may have been fun to watch.
He and Waunita and their family stuck to the job, so to speak, and eventually ended up creating a small business around the mixer, which Lehman’s carries in a small and large size. Just about an hour from our retail store in Dalton, Bob and Waunita have built a small manufacturing shop that employs local Amish, and they turn out thousands of peanut butter stirrers a year that come to Lehman’s.
Establishing the shop was “a heavy investment”, says Waunita, gracefully understating the business commitment. This small family business was built from the ground up. They had to create machines and dies to form the stirrer dasher, lids, lid liner and gaskets. Bob worked closely with his grandfather to push the Stirrer into final form.
Once the stirrer was marketable, Bob and Waunita showed it to a locally-based, nationally known condiment manufacturer that makes the natural peanut butter that’s a favorite in their household.
In conjunction with that company, they were able to organize two promotions that were hugely successful. “When it went so well, we were so pleased,” said Waunita, who manages sales, marketing and inventory from their home. She says, with a fond glance at her husband, “He’s a really good guy to work for.” With past experience in administration, sales and marketing, (some of it at that national condiment maker), she’s a partner in the enterprise. It’s clear this devoted couple work together well.
Bob’s collected a fair amount of recognition along the way for his simple idea that just simply works. And when you ask him directly, he’ll tell you about it. But you have to ask him directly, because he’s not a guy to toot his own horn. For instance, in 2004 he was one of only 100 inventors in the US invited to the Inventor’s Hall of Fame Invent Now Expo, held at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. “Oh, yes. That was quite a trip,” he says. With a little prodding, he does add some detail.
But Bob would rather talk about what the Natural Peanut Butter stirrer does than what other people have said about him. “It’s simple to use, and it’s not messy. Everything stays in the jar, and the gasket on the lid keeps everything clean. Folks love that.”
He even has tips for how to get the most from your Natural Peanut Butter Stirrer. “Make sure your peanut butter is all natural, the kind with the oil at the top. And the peanut butter should be room temperature to stir well. Take two teaspoons of the oil out of the top of the jar, and set that aside in a small bowl. Save it for popcorn. Then fasten the stirrer on and take your time. Mix it completely. When you pull the stirrer rod out, it’ll be nice and clean. The gasket on the lid does that, and the gasket is easy to wash. The oil will be completely incorporated.”
Waunita adds, “You really want to save that extra oil. It’s so good on popcorn.” That’s a popular snack in their household too, and they use the extra oil in their stovetop popcorn popper.