"The main driving force behind the inception of our product was the idea that sugar is not a substitute for flavor," says Malkoon of the company he created with this co-founder and sister, Denise. "In traveling, we noticed that very sugary spreads were what was being propagated in especially poor communities. We wanted to create something with lower sugar and higher nutrition for communities across the United States and the world."
The siblings spent over a year testing out recipes in their mother's kitchen, breaking numerous Cuisinarts in the process. "We made a lot of terrible peanut butters," Malkoon says. "A lot of flavors -- like alcoholic peanut butter -- didn't work out. But we were fortunate to experiment and have friends and family try it."
Eventually Malkoon and his sister settled on the five flavors of nut butters Americano Foods sells today: classic peanut butter, classic almond butter, cinnamon honey peanut butter, cinnamon roasted almond butter, and choco blanco peanut butter.
"Our best seller is cinnamon roasted almond butter," Malkoon adds. "We wanted it to taste like the almonds they sell at fairs that are dipped in maple sugar and cinnamon -- but a low sugar version of that. It gets the health crowd; it also gets the flavor crowd. And it's just a clean, four ingredient, low-sugar option that people love."
To date, Americano Foods has made close to $2 million in revenue. "We've also sampled our products to hundreds of thousands of people across the Southwest," Malkoon notes. "But, of course, our goal is to reach the whole country and the whole world. We really want to compete with the likes of Nutella on the global stage and provide that cleaner option."
To enable the kind of growth necessary to reach such a goal, Malkoon and his sister switched to an out-of-state co-packer for production while maintaining their own 15,000-square-foot warehousing and distribution center in the Phoenix area. They're currently selling around 50,000 pounds of nut butter a year.
"We really wanted to be producing in a facility that is operating at the highest safety and certification standards possible," Malkoon continues. "That's really daunting for a small business like us to create [on our own.] So, we're now contract packaging in a 20,000-square-foot facility alongside some of our other national competitors. We feel like that's really the path for producing a trusted product and the best product for our customers for safety."
The simple ingredients that make up Americano Foods' nut butters are sourced for the U.S. whenever possible. “Our nuts, which are like 90 or more percent of our ingredients, are from the United States,” Malkoon says. “As is our honey. Cinnamon, of course, is coming from Sri Lanka primarily. And vanilla bean is coming from Madagascar primarily, which you know has its challenges.”
Consumers can find Americano Foods’ products in physical retail locations in the Southwest. However, Malkoon says the company's top sales channels are Amazon and Walmart's online marketplaces as well as their own website. "And we're doing some exporting to Canada and Korea," he adds.
Challenges: Malkoon says that funding is the company's biggest roadblock. "Fundraising in the CPG food space, as we're learning, is a challenge," he explains. "It's not tech. It's not finance. There aren't a lot of pitch competitions. We've built an amazing pitch deck for investors, but the places we can go to actually pitch are pretty limited. Investors are looking for kind of faster, more explosive growth markets than food typically is."
Opportunities: Malkoon says the company is rebranding its packaging soon to "really embrace the American theme of our products." The new branding will include scenes from across America, with each flavor receiving its own theme. "It's going to look really cool on shelves at grocery stores and coffee shops," he continues.
Another opportunity is the addition of nut butter squeeze packs later in 2022. "We're really excited to be moving into squeeze packs," says Malkoon. "They can go into lunchboxes. They can go with you to the gym. We really feel like they'll add an element of versatility to our products that we haven't had before with our full pound of nut butters in jars."
Needs: Malkoon says he and his sister are looking for expert help. While they've benefited from the insight of a number of "amazing mentors in different areas, different industries, who are wonderful," he continues, the pair would love to "find someone who can grow with us. We're not really sure where to look for that person. But you know, someone who has been in the space, who has done this, and who wants to help an adorable little brother and sister duo who are newer on the scene to navigate these shark infested waters. That would be amazing."