Once Again Nut Butter, located in Nunda, N.Y., is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Without a doubt, the company sticks to its promise of integrity like peanut butter on bread.
Jeremy Thaler and his wife Constance Potter started the company in 1976 as a worker-cooperative. The couple’s interest in nut butters began when a nearby museum asked Thaler to make an old-fashioned peanut butter for them for an exhibit they were having. Not long after, Once Again Nut Butter was born.
Organic on a Mission
The company got its start when organic certification was still a fairly new concept, so new that organic peanut farming wasn’t even fully established in the United States. That didn’t stop Once Again Nut Butter from making an organic product. The firm was instrumental in developing the organic peanut growing standards and in 1989, became the first company in the United States to produce Organic Valencia Peanut Butter. Over the next five years, the company subsidized the growing organic peanut crop, paving the way for future organic peanut products.
Once Again Nut Butter is not only integral to the history of organic foods; it’s also concerned about the future. Gael J.B. Orr, communications manager for Once Again Nut Butter, is enthusiastic about the growing popularity of the organic food industry, but feels no matter how popular organic foods become, it is important to keep focused on offering healthy foods that are good for the body and the environment, not the bank account. Profitability should not be the purpose of organic companies, Once Again Nut Butter believes. Rather, “Our mindset at Once Again is missional,” Orr explains. Once Again truly cares about what consumers put into their bodies, and is willing to step out of the box to ensure top-quality ingredients make their way into its products.
Fair Trade Farming
Not only is this company an innovator in the organic industry, it has also devoted itself to promoting fair trade practices and aiding farmers who are less fortunate. In a nutshell, Once Again Nut Butter really lives up to its motto, “We Spread Integrity,” through their involvement in helping others.
For instance, the company is involved in an ongoing project in Nicaragua that helps to promote fair trade among the farmers there. Once Again Nut Butter teamed up with a Nicaraguan charity called Jubilee House to grow the sesame seeds used in Once Again’s tahini products there. Ten years later, 11 co-ops have been started and over 2,000 farmers are supported because of this project.
As if these projects aren’t enough to make Once Again stand out, its devotion to giving money to those who are in need solidifies its reputation as an admirable company. When Hurricane Mitch hit South America in 1998, many farmers watched in horror as their land was destroyed, their crops were ruined and their only source of income washed away. The banks with which farmers had put their land up for security began foreclosing on their land.
Once Again Nut Butter micro-lent $150,000 to those farmers affected by the hurricane, and the farmers paid the company back within eight years. Orr recalls, “At that time, Nicaragua was the poorest country in this hemisphere. They compete with Haiti for poverty, so for them to pay back a micro-lent project just blows me away. And, it blows me away that Once Again Nut Butter just micro-lent the moneyat a time when the company itself was in such a growth stage.”
|Bob Gelser, General Manager|
Orr notes that this act of kindness demonstrates what Thaler and Once Again Nut Butter are all about. It is that heart and that care for humanity that makes Once Again Nut Butter a truly extraordinary company.In addition to Nicaragua, Once Again goes above and beyond when it comes to charity. States Orr, “There are other charities that haven’t scratched the surface of what Once Again has been able to do in its entire time in existence. It’s amazing.” Though Orr speaks with pride about the generosity of Once Again, she is quick to note the company’s modesty. In fact, few people are aware of the great things the company does. “That is because of Jeremy. He is a humble soul and he just has this heart about him…He just kind of did everything sort of secretively, and I think that’s because of who he is.” Indeed, such generosity is rare to find, but comes naturally to such a genuine and caring food company.
Yet another aspect of what makes Once Again Nut Butter so special is that it is currently 100% employee-owned. The company Web site states, “We are an EmployeeStock Ownership Plan (ESOP), however, we govern ourselves as a worker-owned cooperative.”
|Once Again's company offices|
Orr believes that this is one of the reasons that Once Again Nut Butter is so special. “The one thing about being employee owned is that because everyone is an owner, everyone cares a great deal about the company and they have a much higher level of integrity and investment into how their company operates. So, the level of care is much greater.” The highest paid employee at Once Again cannotmake more than three-and-a-half times what the lowest paid worker-owner makes. That ratio is better than what most other companies can boast. Clearly, each employee is taken care of at Once Again Nut Butter, and because they have so much invested in the company, they do their best to take their time and ensure that each product is made with perfection and care.
Newer companies in the organic industry can look to Once Again Nut Butter as a leader. As Orr explains, “There’s so much more than peanut butter in a jar at Once Again. It’s amazing all the accomplishments the company has made.” WF
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2011