ASU alumnus creates peanut butter business, spreads benefits beyond downtown Phoenix

(Yihyun Jeong/DD)
Peanut Butter Americano donates significant portions of its profits to benefit global causes, such as building emergency housing in South America. (Yihyun Jeong/DD)

When ASU alumnus Jeff Malkoon returned from a volunteer trip to Uruguay in 2011, he knew he wanted to do more to give back. After examining market gaps in South America, developing a business plan with friend Michael McGillicuddy and experimenting for months to create the perfect peanut butter, Peanut Butter Americano was born.

Peanut Butter Americano’s success can be measured in more than sales. The company utilizes a business model similar to that of Toms Shoes, where part of the business’ revenue goes towards a social cause.

“It’s hybrid of nonprofit and for profit businesses. Instead of relying exclusively on donations, I realized with PB Americano that we could do a lot more if we were a profit-generating business,” Malkoon said. “We could have [a] bigger impact if we were a business with a social mission.”

Malkoon and co-founder McGillicuddy contributed about $5000 each and two years of what Malkoon calls “sweat equity” to help start up the business. The two used Malkoon’s mother’s kitchen to try new peanut butter recipes and solidify their four flavors. Peanut Butter Americano officially began selling in January 2013 and has gained a solid customer base since then, selling more than 5,000 pounds of peanut butter since its inception, Malkoon said.

Malkoon spent his volunteer trip with TECHO: Un Techo para mi Pais (Spanish for, “A Roof for my Country”), a nonprofit organization based in South America that works to overcome poverty in the slums.

Peanut Butter Americano donates part of its profits to TECHO to build emergency houses in hopes of eliminating extreme poverty in Latin America. Peanut Butter Americano has already funded the construction of more than 20 emergency houses.

The duo has plans on the horizon to split their donations between TECHO and an organization they are creating called Funds for the Americas, which will provide micro-loans and help support sustainable job creation across Latin America.

Peanut Butter Americano has also donated hundreds of pounds of peanut butter to St. Mary’s Food Bank and has worked with the organization Autism Speaks.

The taste of Peanut Butter Americano, along with its mission, has attracted customers from across the country. Peanut Butter Americano can be purchased at local farmer’s markets, including the Phoenix Public Market, and grocery stores including Bodega 420. Their products can be ordered online and shipped nationwide.

Most of the sales come from farmers markets, with sales tipping 100 pounds sold in one day. Customers are loyal to the brand because of the product and the cause behind it, McGillicuddy said.

Tracy Peterka, a consumer of Peanut Butter Americano, said the peanut butter tastes better than most major store-bought peanut butters.

“I love how they have different flavors with the peanut butter,” Peterka said. “It doesn’t taste like really salty, store-bought peanut butter and by buying it you’re promoting more than the peanut butter. It’s for a larger cause.”

McGillicuddy said feedback, like that of Peterka, has been extremely positive.

“(At farmer’s markets) I ask them if they want to try the best peanut butter in the world, and usually they’re pretty skeptical, but more often than not, they end up agreeing with me.”

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