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ASU alum's social venture spreads international change

peanuts encircle an etching of a globe
March 18, 2014

In a final hurrah from Arizona State University, new graduate Jeff Malkoon sold as many possessions as he could, packed his bags and traveled to a half-dozen Latin American countries for six months. Volunteering with South American nonprofit organization TECHO: Un Techo para mi Pais (Spanish for “A Roof for my Country”), Malkoon decided to find a way to continue working with the charity once he returned to Phoenix.

“For me, it was Uruguay – but it’s the same deal in France or anywhere else in the world – and you’re standing in a grocery store in the aisle where peanut butter would be, and the only thing you see is Skippy or Jiff,” Malkoon says. “And you know exactly where it’s made. You know exactly what conglomerate owns it.”

Malkoon, who graduated from ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies in 2009 and returned for a master’s in nonprofit studies with the College of Public Programs, came up with a solution.

Like the founders of TOMS Shoes and Ben & Jerry’s before him, Malkoon felt the call of social enterprise. With his friend Michael McGillicuddy, he experimented with peanut butter formulas in his mom’s kitchen for months before founding Peanut Butter Americano, a social venture that donates part of the proceeds from the dark chocolate peanut butter to TECHO. The nonprofit fights areas of extreme poverty by constructing housing for at-risk families in 19 countries.

Thanks to a community of locavores and supporters of small business, in its first year of business, despite losing one of its cofounders, Peanut Butter Americano flourished, donating more than $3,000 to TECHO, spreading to 16 stores across Arizona and adding two almond butter flavors to the brand’s enterprise of four distinct peanut butter flavors: white chocolate, dark chocolate, cinnamon honey and classic.

Sales haven’t slowed since Peanut Butter Americano sold its first jar more than a year ago. Malkoon credits the venture’s success to a high demand for his product in local farmers markets.

“We’re Arizona’s only nut butter company as far as I know … and I think there is a real demand for that in the farmers market world here in the Valley and around the state,” Malkoon says. “We’ve kind of filled that gap in a way. It just seems like it was a really big gap. There was a lot of demand for the products that we brought to the market.”

Peanut Butter Americano is used by local bakeries, and sold at farmers markets across the Valley, including Phoenix Public Market, Tempe Farmers Market and Scottsdale Farmers Market. Malkoon is also in talks with AJ’s Fine Foods and Whole Foods to put his products on the shelves.

“This past year in Phoenix there’s been a lot of support in our community for locally-produced, fresh and especially healthful products,” Malkoon says. “People are really out for those things in this market.”

As director of sales and events, Teresa Malkoon spends each weekend at Peanut Butter Americano’s farmers market events loudly proclaiming her son’s peanut butter as "the most delicious peanut butter on Earth." She’s noticed a growing community of consumers who are educated about the positives of supporting local products and businesses.

“People take out good local products, especially good local gourmet products, because people who support farmers markets … tend to embrace their communities and want their tax money and the dollars to stay in their communities,” Teresa says.

As Peanut Butter Americano expands in Arizona, Malkoon builds the courage to bring his product back to Uruguay and stock the shelves there.

“In five-years time, we’ll be selling our products internationally, no doubt,” Malkoon says. “One of our founding goals was to bring our products down to South America and really try and make this their company.”

Written by Adrianna Ovnicek