Joelle Mertzel, president of Kitchen Concepts Unlimited, is on a mission to educate consumers about butter.
Mertzel came up with the idea for her flagship product, Butterie (pictured above), after discovering butter didn’t need to be refrigerated. “I grew up with butter in the fridge,” Mertzel said. “My parents did, too. It’s dairy. It says to keep refrigerated, right? And so your whole life you’re slicing off little things of butter and trying to get it on the toast for it to melt so you can spread it… and I’m like, wait a second. We don’t have to do that?”
However, upon starting to keep her butter on the counter, she found that she had issues with her traditional butter dish. The lid was too slippery. How do you set it down so that it doesn’t leave a ring of butter on the counter? That is when she had the idea for Butterie, a flip-top butter dish that would solve all of her issues. Shocked that it didn’t exist yet, Mertzel, then a stay-at-home mom, started the process of figuring out how to make her dream product a reality.
Mertzel started with product research. “Am I making a product that the marketplace really needs? How many people are keeping their butter on the counter? That was my big question. I hadn’t been doing it. If nobody else is doing it, then is this really a necessary product? How many knew they could keep better on the counter?”
She discovered one in four people keep their butter on the counter all the time, and about half of America knew they could. “For a basic everyday item that people are using for meal prep in the morning, lunch, dinner… I mean, butter is such a part of everything,” Mertzel said. “So to have that misinformation about it, I just thought it was really fascinating,” she said. But with at least 25% of people keeping butter on the counter, Mertzel knew that she had a demand for her product.
She started selling the Butterie at Bed Bath & Beyond before moving into Walmart with the lower-priced version, Better Dish, as she felt the $12.99 pricepoint for Butterie was going to be too expensive for Walmart. Within a year, Better Dish went from a 1,400-store test at Walmart to nationwide. Her goal is also to expand into the global market. The Butterie is currently made with plastic, but Mertzel has plans to make it in ceramic, stainless steel, copper and sustainable bamboo.
President Joelle Mertzel stands beside the company’s mission.
Earlier this year, Mertzel and Kitchen Concepts petitioned the FDA to update their recommendations for butter storage. Since July 2019, the FDA has stated on the USDA website, “Butter and margarine are safe at room temperature,” she said. “However, if butter is left out at room temperature for several days, the flavor can turn rancid, so it’s best to leave out whatever you can use within a day or two.” Yet, when Mertzel pressed for supplemental data regarding their recommendations, she said no information could be obtained from FDA representatives.
Kitchen Concepts worked with Michelson Laboratories, Inc., an FDA-approved food safety lab, to test butter at room temperature. Various butter brands were analyzed every three to seven days and tested for spoilage organisms such as general bacteria, coliform bacteria, yeast and mold that could limit shelf life. The samples were also tested for oxidation and rancidity. They found that the butter samples had a good microbial quality for 21 days when stored at room temperature. “It’s our mission to talk about keeping butter on the counter. I say it wherever I can, and I try to get as many large-scale platforms as I can to get the word out,” Mertzel said.
“Change Your Life for the Butter” children’s book
Among the education efforts Mertzel has made to dispel consumer confusion is a children’s book every new customer gets for free, “Change Your Life for the Butter.” The short read essentially serves as a creative press kit. “The whole point is you’re trying to communicate information, right? And you want to do it in a way that’s fun and receptive and exciting,” she said. “And I have a fun story to tell. I thought, why don’t I tell the story as a story? Because I have three kids, I was so used to reading children’s books every night as I was tucking everybody into bed.
“It was just the voice that came to me so naturally,” Mertzel continued. “I just feel so blessed to have built this business, which I just love. I get to be so creative and get to just the way I market, the way I develop products, the way I do packaging, the way I run the business with my employees,” she continued, “I feel like I won the lottery getting to know this business.”
Better Drizzle Oil Dispenser
SnapAway Attachable Knife
Looking to the future, Mertzel asked herself, “How do I keep my original concept while expanding?” Along with making the Butterie in different materials, Kitchen Concepts is working to expand with products such as the Better Drizzle, a drip-free, flip-top oil dispenser; the Z Bottle, an oil dispenser with a larger capacity and different internal structure for the flip-top than the Better Drizzle; and a four-piece breakfast set that they are hoping to sell to Costco. The company also currently sells the SnapAway, a collapsible knife that attaches to the rim of a tub of butter, storing the knife inside.