Wellington peanut butter magnate reflects on Philippines visit

Roman Jewell, co-founder of Wellington-based gourmet peanut butter company Fix and Fogg, embarked on the Foundation's 2015 trip to the Philippines for social entrepreneurs with a long wish list in hand. He came away with far greater understanding of not only the Philippines but Southeast Asia as a whole.
Roman holding a selection of Fix and Fogg peanut butter

The Foundation took Roman and four other sustainability-focused social entrepreneurs to the Philippines where they learnt the country and met with their Filipino counterparts

The Wellington-based social entrepreneur was one of five selected by the Asia New Zealand Foundation to travel to the Philippines as part in its ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, a programme designed to build networks between businesspeople in Southeast Asia and New Zealand. 

Expansion was on Roman’s mind at the time. He and his wife had set up their new business in late 2013, naming it Fix and Fogg after Phileas Fogg and Detective Fix in Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel Around the World in 80 Days. Two years down the track, the business was going well.

Roman thought a visit to the Philippines would give him a better understanding of sustainable agricultural practices and how these could be incorporated into the Fix and Fogg operation. In his mind it was an opportunity to explore possible collaborations with other like-minded entrepreneurs in the Philippines.

And he was wondering if he could directly source some of his ingredients – peanuts, chocolate, chillies, sultanas and spices – from fair trade and organic suppliers in the Philippines.

As things turned out, none of these initial ideas were to come to fruition. But nine months after that 2015 trip, Fix and Fogg started exporting to the Philippines.

“That trip gave me the idea of the Philippines as a viable market,” Roman says. “And in the bigger picture it gave me an appreciation of Asia that I didn’t previously have. It opened my eyes to the opportunities in Southeast Asia as a whole.

“I thought, if that’s what’s going on in Manila, what’s happening in Jakarta, what’s happening in Kuala Lumpur?”

Roman holding two plants in the back of a jeep

Roman: "That trip gave me the idea of the Philippines as a viable market. And in the bigger picture it gave me an appreciation of Asia that I didn’t previously have."

Fix and Fogg’s exports to the Philippines were followed by their launch into the Singapore market in 2018 and China – specifically the megacities of Guangzhou and Shanghai – at the end of 2019. In Singapore, the Fix and Fogg peanut butter range is carried by both major supermarket chains and associated e-commerce sites.

In China, the Fix and Fogg products are currently mainly sold on-line through a local distributor, while a New Zealand-based Filipino distributor handles exports to the Philippines.

“The Philippines tend towards our sweeter varieties like our Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter while in Singapore they embrace our full range — sweet, savoury and almond butter,” Roman says.

“But we can’t get our hemp seed-based peanut butters into Singapore because the use of hemp is still illegal there.”

The Philippines-visit entrepreneurs having a picnic

Roman: says travelling with fellow entrepreneurs added greatly to the experience

Roman is a fan of hemp seeds, because they are a complete source of plant protein and rich in omega 3,6 and 9. Fix and Fogg promote the nutritional value of their products and their emphasis on the best quality ingredients.

“New Zealand’s image as a beautiful country with natural food products works for us,” Roman says.

While initially he had thought of sourcing ingredients in the Philippines, he now sees the brand value in buying locally.

“Asian markets place a higher value on imported ingredients,” he says. “We’re unique in the way we put our own twist on the way we do things.

“That goes for our products – like our Smoke and Fire peanut butter with organic local chillies and natural Manuka smoke – and the values that underlie our business. We pay a living wage, we don’t use palm oil, or added sugars, or stabilisers, we’re non-GMO, and we use glass instead of plastic.”  

Fix and Fogg staff standing in a row in front of a large, ivy-covered wall

The Fix and Fogg team

Fix and Fogg’s big focus now is the United States, the original home of peanut butter. It’s estimated that by the age of 18, the average American child will have eaten approximately 1,500 peanut butter sandwiches. 

“It’s the biggest peanut butter market in the world,” Roman says. “There’s so much demand and we are investing a lot of energy into the U.S.”

Looking back at his eye-opening 2015 trip with the Foundation, Roman says he would not have had the time or money to arrange something like that himself. He sees great value in getting together with other alumni of such visits to South East Asia.

“We’re not in competition,” he says. “The challenges we face are pretty common and shared. I’d like the Foundation to arrange more get-togethers.”