ASU alumnus creates PB Americano nut butter for a cause
A popular American staple is receiving a face-lift as ASU alumnus Jeff Malkoon is changing the flavor of peanut butter one jar at a time.
Malkoon graduated in 2009 from the politics and global studies program at ASU and then pursued a master's degree on the Downtown campus in nonprofit studies.
His interest in nonprofit studies took Malkoon to South America, where his idea for creating a special brand of nut butter came about and Peanut Butter Americano was born.
"I got the idea to make nut butter when I was living in Uruguay," he said. "Uruguay is the region of the world where the peanut was first cultivated 3,000 years ago, and they still grow them, but the only peanut butter you can find on store shelves is Skippy, and that just puzzled me."
After noticing the Uruguayans not really eating the American peanut butter, Malkoon thought there needed to be a change in the texture and taste.
"One of the popular spreads down there is dulce de leche," he said. "They put that on everything like we put peanut butter on everything. It's sweet and delicious, but it has no nutritional value and they like eating peanuts, so I said, 'Maybe they would like a peanut butter if it was a little creamier and sweet.'"
This idea inspired Malkoon to start developing a peanut butter in Uruguay, but he then came back to Phoenix because of the larger market for the butter.
Malkoon got to work in his mother's kitchen after returning stateside to create new flavors that were different from the typical peanut butter found on grocery shelves across the U.S.
"I developed all of the recipes in my mom's kitchen a little over two years ago," he said. "So for a while I was making it myself and moved into a commercial kitchen and still did it myself but couldn’t keep up with the demand of the farmers' markets. So we had to move into a co-packing facility to actually produce all of our nut butter in an FDA certified co-packing facility which allows us to ship nationally."
The nut butter business has been growing exponentially since those first days in his mother's kitchen.
"Just a little over a year ago we sold our first jar of peanut butter at Phoenix Public Market and shortly after that we got into our first grocery store, Tempe Farmers Market," Malkoon said. "Since then, we've moved over 20,000 pounds of peanut butter around the state."
The popularity of Malkoon's product has allowed his brand to now be in 16 markets and grocery stores across the state, and he continues to sell his butter at more than five farmers markets every weekend, he said.
Malkoon said he is trying to make the nut butters as organic as possible, but it is difficult when just starting out.
"We have four all-natural flavors — two peanut butters and two almond butters — and all of our peanuts and almonds are non-GMO, and eventually, we'd like all of our products to be certified organic," he said.
The nuts Malkoon uses in his product come from west Texas and California as he tries to keep the product American-made.
Malkoon continues his philanthropic ideals as part of the proceeds from the nut butters go to benefit a relief organization.
"We give part of our proceeds to a relief organization called 'A Roof for My Country' — in Spanish it is 'Juntos por un mundo sin pobreza' — and they operate in 19 countries across Latin America and build emergency houses, sort of like a Habitat for Humanity," he said.
All of the nut butter products are gaining in popularity, but the most popular flavor is cinnamon honey peanut butter, Malkoon said.
"It's made with Arizona wildflower and mesquite honey as the sweetener," he said. "Its an all-natural product, and it sells two to one against the other flavors, and our newest flavor is cinnamon honey almond butter, which is doing very well also."
Daryle Dutton, owner of Tempe Farmers Market, said the PB Americano brand is one of the best selling products at his store.
"Our store has new and local products, so as long as the product is made locally and is a quality product and healthy we'll put it out to our family and friends in the community," he said. "This one is a very well done product not just in the quality standards being extraordinarily high, the packaging is awesome and the people are great."
Once people try the product, there is no going back to regular grocery store peanut butter, Dutton said.
"The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, in that once you try the product you realize the others are second best," he said. "You can't just go back to Jiffy."
First-time PB Americano customer Jen Dewey said she likes the fact the peanut butter is made in Phoenix and not shipped in.
"I like it because it is local, and I prefer to buy local products, so I really like the idea behind it," she said.
Malkoon has been getting many requests for more products and he said he tells them "one nut at a time."
"We get requests all the time for a pistachio butter or a cashew butter, and we just released our almond butter so we are going to go from there," he said. "I just want to say it is delicious."
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