Sure, there have been family feuds and business splits before. But this one’s just nuts . . .
The distinctive blue exterior will greet customers of the soon-to-open Picard Peanuts at the intersection of Richmond Street and Medway Road north of London, Ontario on Wednesday January 14, 2015. CRAIG GLOVER/The London Free Press/QMI Agency
If you’re a fan of Picard’s Peanuts, you may have to pick a side.
There’ll soon be a new Picard’s Peanuts store opening just north of London, in Arva, selling Ontario-grown peanuts and other treats.
That’s not to be confused with the Picard’s Peanuts in Talbotville, just south of London.
Same name, same family, yes.
But different owners and different products processed at separate facilities.
Oh, and add a dash of family business feuding — nothing like the quarrel that openly errupted in the McCain family over the leadership of its frozen-food empire, but enough to crack the house of peanuts that began in Southwestern Ontario when Jim Picard pioneered growing the legume decades ago.
It’s all a bit baffling for loyal fans of the confectionery chain, admits Picard, a Simcoe-area farmer who founded the business in 1979.
“The whole thing is all messed up. It’s so complicated,” he said.
The family split has also become heated.
A posting on the Picard Foods website owned by one branch of the family says of the other: “They have copied our branding, tried to replicate our product recipes, used our product names, tried to substitute our premium selection of quality chocolate confections with a lesser-quality chocolate . . . hoping that you wouldn’t notice.”
A posting on the website for Picard Peanuts Inc., the other side of the family, retorts: “The Picard Family at Picard Peanuts Ltd. takes pride in its product and its history, which is why you need to know that you haven’t been fooled, at least by us.”
Jim Picard pioneered growing Ontario peanuts as an alternative to tobacco. Peanuts didn’t work as a commercial crop, but Picard opened a successful retail store that diversified into a variety of peanut products and snacks and grew to a chain of eight outlets.
All eight stores under the two family companies worked together until 2012, when a deal to have son John and daughter Renee take over the whole operation fell through and the stores were split up between two companies.
Picard and his son, Jim Jr. are opening the Arva outlet, in a newly-built store at Medway Rd. and Richmond St.
Their company, Picard Peanuts Ltd., also runs stores in Woodstock, Fonthill, Morriston (east of Cambridge) and a store and production facility in Windham Centre, near Simcoe. Jim Jr. also runs a store in Cobourg. John and Renee own Picard Foods, a separate family company incorporated in 1982, which now operates stores in Waterford, Waterdown, St. Jacob’s and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Since the split, the relationship between the two chains has become more fractious, with conflicting claims about the originality and quality of the products posted on their websites and Facebook pages.
John Picard said he gets regular inquiries from confused consumers about the difference in the stores and products and has begun legal proceedings to take exclusive ownership of the Picard Peanuts brand.
“People are looking at our logos, our branding and saying it looks the same. I hope that in 8 to 10 months I will have my branding work secured and we will ask them (Picard Peanuts Ltd.) to stop using it,” said John Picard, who also operates the Ramblin Rd. craft brewery farm near Delhi.
Jim Picard, now in his late 70s and semi-retired, said the opening of the Arva store has been held up by a delay in installing services. But he says the store should be open in a couple of months and hopes the location just north of London will make it a success.
“It’s the best place in Ontario to put a Picard’s Peanut store,” he said.
Families can avoid nasty battles over handing down their business by getting an independent professional valuation of the business and deciding on a plan for the new generation to pay for it, said David Simpson, director of the Business Families Centre at the Ivey school of business at Western University.
Simpson said family business should always avoiding making their internal disputes public.
“Ultimately, you’re hurting family and brand awareness with customers, which is what kills you over time,” he said.
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- Founded in 1979 by Jim Picard, a Simcoe-area farmer who grew tobacco and corn before experimenting with peanuts as an alternative to tobocco in Norfolk County.
- Ontario’s growing season was too short, cool and wet to make peanuts a successful commercial crop but Picard was able to grow and process a small crop of quality peanuts to supply a retail outlet.
- Picard Peanuts added imported peanuts and diversified into snacks such as Chipnuts, peanuts coated in potato chips, and expanded to outlets across southern Ontario, including Woodstock and Talbotville.
- In 2012, when a succession plan fell through, the operation was split between Picard Foods Ltd., owned by Picard’s son, John, and daughter, Renee, and Picard Peanuts Ltd., owned by Jim Picard Sr. and Jim Picard Jr.
- Picard’s Truly Scrumptious Confectionery in Brantford is an independent business run by other family members.