One item, in particular, that I remember fondly from my childhood was Velvet Peanut Butter! It was the ONLY peanut butter my mother bought when I was growing up!
Perhaps nothing says peanut butter to generations of Metro Detroiters more than those three words -- the familiar pledge of Velvet Peanut Butter. The jar with the yellow label and a freckled-faced boy grimacing under each word was a household staple for decades.
Velvet Peanut Butter disappeared from store shelves more than 20 years ago, but the beloved brand is making a comeback thanks to the aspirations of a Michigan native now living in Georgia.
Eric Bruce, a marketing research director for a television station, has resurrected Velvet Peanut Butter because he was tired of seeing Detroit brands disappear or their production moved elsewhere. He began making the peanut butter at a plant in Fitzgerald, Ga., late last year and shipping cases to Hiller's Markets here in Michigan.
Nostalgia and Hiller's promotion of Michigan products helped the grocer sell 1,200 jars of Velvet in the first five weeks. The peanut butter is now also available at Oak Ridge and Westborn markets, and plans call for other stores to carry the brand as well.
"Sales really took off," Bruce said. "It has far exceeded my expectations. I know it's just peanut butter, but you're really selling people their hometown and memories."
Created in Michigan
Velvet Peanut Butter traces its roots to a two-car garage in Detroit in 1937. The peanut butter made by Paul Zuckerman became so popular that he expanded his operations three times in Detroit before establishing a plant in Livonia in 1963, where it was made until the family got out of the business in 1985. The peanut butter also was sold in Indiana and Ohio.
Now, Bruce and his wife, Kim, also a Michigan native, are making Velvet using the same recipe. They bought a warehouse in Michigan and hope to make the peanut butter here eventually.
"It shows our commitment to Michigan," said Bruce, 42. "I'm hoping to bring this company back."
It's a challenging time to sell peanut butter because of the recent salmonella scare and with schools removing peanut products from menus because of allergies, said Fred Marx, a partner with public relations and marketing firm Marx Layne and Co. in Farmington Hills.
Still, Marx believes Velvet will receive a warm welcome in Metro Detroit, where many beloved brands have been purchased by conglomerates and their products made elsewhere. "People are nostalgic for this peanut butter," he said. "While there is competition, in this marketplace, I think people remember it fondly."
Addressing concerns about salmonella, Bruce said every product batch is tested before shipping.
Norbie Zuckerman, the founder's son and whose face graces the label, said he and his mother, Helen, are delighted to see the brand return. "It's a great product," he said. "We think it's great for Detroit."
Welcome back Velvet!!
UPDATE: Velvet Peanut Butter should be available in Kroger Supermarkets starting in May 2009!