Sometimes when a snack producer scales up production and grows its market reach, the company can find it challenging to stay true to its original mission and goals. However, since its humble beginnings as a two-person operation, Once Again has remained committed to its original aim of producing natural, organic, healthy products that do good by the environment, and the people who make its nut butters (and now, graham cracker sandwich snacks) possible.

To learn more about the company’s history, line of nut butters and snacks, and its adherence to social and environmental standards, Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery spoke with Gael Orr, director of marketing, Once Again.

Jenni Spinner: Please tell us how Once Again got started—from the founders meeting at a co-op, to launching their own business, to the packaging with the raccoon, it’s a fun journey.

Gael Orr: Once Again’s founders, Jeremy and Connie, met at a co-op in Madison, WI, and later moved to Rochester, NY. There, they owned a whole-grain bakery and produced granola using a barrel roaster. A friend asked Jeremy if he’d ever considered using the roaster to make old-fashioned peanut butter, and it was that question that led him to the peanut butter business in 1976. He and Connie had a history of starting employee-owned businesses, so with this new venture, people said “Jeremy and Connie are at it “once again,” hence the company name. 

The pair left Rochester for a more rural area, where they operated the business out of their 800 square-foot basement. In 1981, they opened the current facility in Nunda, NY, and it was here they found four baby racoons on the property. Connie and Jeremy fed them organic peanut butter and named their favorite one Rocky Roo (he’s who you see on every Once Again jar). Rocky has gone on to become our mascot and a symbol of our responsibility to the earth.

JS: Could you please talk about your company’s philosophies around sustainable and responsible practices and ingredients—why is that important to pursue and maintain, when it might be easier or more cost-efficient to go another route?

GO: For over 40 years, we’ve taken pride in representing some of the highest social and environmental standards in the organic food industry, and we continue to hold ourselves to a higher standard. While it might be easier and more cost-efficient to do things differently, making responsible and sustainable choices will always come first. This is so important to us in fact, that we formalized our company’s commitment to sustainability with our Honest in Trade Program, which looks at three aspects of sustainability:

  • People: Everyone in Once Again’s supply chain is treated fairly, from our employees who are considered family, to the community who sees our brand as a big brother, to our farm workers who receive above fair-trade market prices and are negotiated with directly. 
  • Products: Once Again was the first peanut company in the world to get SQF certified. In addition to undergoing constant external audits, Once Again has a robust quality assurance program and state-of-the-art laboratories to monitor internal practices, food safety and food quality. The plant protocols we have in place for cleanliness are unprecedented, and our team has built a database to track commodities back to the supply chain, and eventually the farmer.
  • Planet: To reduce our impact on the planet, at Once Again, we have an internal recycling program, make our containers from recycled materials, purchase solar and wind turbine credits to offset our electrical use, and donate our food waste. 

All of our natural and certified organic products are made from ethically sourced nuts or seeds, contain no added preservatives, plus are Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free certified, and Kosher. With the exception of our chocolate spreads, all products are also vegan. 

JS: Please talk about how your company has grown, and the product offerings Once Again puts out into the world have broadened.

GO: Still 100% employee owned, we’re now a team of 86 employees, and have expanded our flagship nut and seed butter lineup with products designed to meet evolving consumer preferences, such as keto-friendly blanched almond butter, sunflower hemp butter, maple almond butter, and tahini with lemon. We also recently entered the snack category with certified-organic and gluten-free graham cracker sandwiches.

Our facilities have also grown! In 2016, we moved all peanut butter production to a 37,000 square-foot facility that is SQF Certified in Food Safety & Quality. To prevent cross-contamination, all of our tree nut and seed butters are produced in a separate, SQF Certified facility nearby. We’ve also upgraded our facilities to increase efficiency and capacity. We added a second Bühler roaster to our peanut butter production room and installed a new roaster, state-of-the-art mill, four-head filler, and pack-out machine in our almond butter room.

JS: Let’s talk about the PB and sunflower butter graham sandwiches. How did you come up with the idea, and then turn that idea into a product?

GO: We wanted to make our wholesome nut and seed butters more snackable, and cracker sandwiches were the perfect vehicle for this. The first cracker sandwiches to be both certified organic and certified gluten free, plus vegan, this clean-label, snack alternative perfectly aligned with our general mission to spread integrity through sustainable, thoughtfully crafted products. The crackers are made with a blend of organic sorghum flour, organic oat flour and organic cassava flour and are hand cut and filled with dry roasted blanched organic peanuts or dry roasted organic sunflower seeds milled creamy. The products are handcrafted in small batches at Once Again’s SQF Certified industrial bakery in Boulder, CO.

JS: If you were to do it all again, what might you do differently (or better) than you did the first time around?

GO: We wouldn’t change a thing! Everything that we have done, mistakes included, have made us the company we are today. We have no regrets and see nothing but a bright future ahead.

JS: What might you have planned for the future—i.e. new products, broader distribution, expansion, etc.?

GO: You’ll definitely see more crackers and snacks from us in the future, and we are continuing to launch new flavored items on our e-commerce store, so if you want to try some fun flavors, like cashew butter with sea salt caramel, look for us there.  

In addition, the response to our graham cracker sandwiches has been great. They’re loved by all ages and our retail customers are seeing strong sell-through. We’re looking into ways to expand that lineup.