Imagine it’s 10 years into the future. Food corporations are still concerned with making a profit, but it is no longer the only concern. Companies are blazing trails for better environmental standards, practicing ethical sourcing and engaging with the community in a positive way. Employees are valued and love showing up to work. Consumers enjoy trips to the supermarket because they know what they’re throwing into the cart isn’t causing harm. And best of all, food is more than just a product: It’s healthy, fun and meaningful.
This was the vision Yumbutter co-founders Matt D’Amour and Adrian Reif have pursued since 2010 when they launched their nut butter business. They’ve aimed to nourish the world in the process.
You could say they dream big, but they’re among the mindful companies already demonstrating those futuristic characteristics today.
Yumbutter began its journey modestly. In the back of the Bloom Bake Shop kitchen in Middleton, D’Amour and Reif experimented wildly, grinding up different combinations of nuts, seeds and spices. They crafted flavored nut butters and hauled them to farmers’ markets all over Madison in glass jars.
Immediately, they launched a Buy One Feed One program, which initially brought 5-pound tubs of nut butter to area schools around Madison. Over time, the initiative evolved into a relationship with Primer Pasos, a nonprofit community clinic in Guatemala with a holistic approach to handling health care and malnutrition.
Yumbutter’s quirky flavors including Asian Jazz (peanut butter with cumin, cayenne, turmeric and garlic) and Ethical Elvis (peanut butter with bacon and bananas) quickly helped it become a staple on grocery store shelves around Madison. But then things sort of stagnated. Issues of scale revealed themselves.
“It was just the two of us [then],” D’Amour, chief wellness carrier at Yumbutter, says over coffee and kombucha. “We were doing everything,” D’Amour says. “We made the labels, we [did the] invoicing, we were doing all the marketing, I delivered [product] in my car [and by bike].”
With only two sets of hands, there wasn’t much energy left for their overarching goal: to become a change agent within the natural foods sector.
Then, a chance meeting in 2013 with Food Finance Institute’s Tera Johnson gave Reif and D’Amour a choice. The choice was to stay small and local with a strong mission, but ultimately a smaller impact, or launch the product nationally in an effort to become a widespread influential voice.
“We wanted to be that example that caused other businesses to wonder if they should be doing what we’re doing, which is not operating like [the] old paradigm of business,” D’Amour says. “And to do that you have to have scale and you have to have exposure.” They decided to make the necessary moves to become a national brand.
The following year was a roller coaster, D’Amour says. Reif and D’Amour raced to find investors, bring in capital, overhaul the brand, explore routes for manufacturing and unveil a Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of the now infamous pouch (the first of its kind in the nut butter industry).
They headed to Expo West, the largest natural foods expo in the country, with their go-anywhere superfood pouches. They were a hit. Yumbutter won a NEXTY award for creating an “innovative, inspirational and integrity-driven product.”
“That was truly the start of Yumbutter,” D’Amour says.
They hired their first full-time employee, and then hired a couple more. They moved processing of their jarred nut butters to the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, to create jobs for people with disabilities. And in March of 2016, Yumbutter launched its full line of six pouches—referred to as mouth rockin’ potions—into 1,458 Target stores nationwide. Reif has since transitioned from day-to-day operations.
Earlier this year, Yumbutter merged with RP’s Pasta and Ona Treats to form Tribe 9 Foods. The newly combined crew moved their offices and manufacturing into a 67,000-square foot building on the east side, and they’re taking steps to make the facility as sustainable as possible.
This evolution is part of YumButter’s earlier vision—to do so much more than just sell a product. It’s about changing the way business is done. And it’s about nourishing the world with a delicious, protein-packed product.
What is a B Corp?
Yumbutter owner Matt D’Amour has recently been asked to speak publicly about how companies could do business differently, especially as a “B Corp.”
Yumbutter became a certified B Corporation in 2013 and again in 2016, says D’Amour.
Certified B Corporations, or B Corps, are for-profit companies that have secured certification through the nonprofit organization B Lab. To become certified, a company must score
at least 80 out of a 200-point impact assessment evaluation, which measures a company’s social and environmental performance. Employee benefits, energy consumption and community impact are a few of the metrics considered in an impact assessment, and certification must be renewed every two years.
The B Corp premise is simple: A company’s decision-making isn’t just up to shareholders—it includes other stakeholders, like the communities the business employs and serves. Yumbutter is one of only six certified B Corps in the state of Wisconsin and more than 2,100 companies internationally.
Lauren Rudersdorf is co-owner of Raleigh’s Hillside Farm, a freelance writer and food blogger at The Leek and The Carrot.