This Mission-Driven Company Is Taking Almond Butter To A Whole New Level

Photo: @alison__wu

Let's start with the Lavender Honey almond butter. It's creamy but with the kind of texture that suggests the absence of machines and industrial lines. The flavor captures the most delicate ideals of the lavender plant: none of your grandmother's closet, all of July in Provence. The honey is faint—there's only 1 tablespoon in the entire 12-ounce jar—but it's enough to soften the flowery elements of the lavender, to bring the butter into the realm of decadence without veering into dessert. The Coconut, Cardamom, and Chia Seed almond butter is another stand-out, utilizing the oft-forgotten savory sweet spice to impart notes of the Middle East, while the mellow coconut adds sweetness to underscore the chia crunch. These products are considered, thoughtful from the meticulous sourcing of local ingredients to the careful combinations of ingredients (the delicacy of the flavor balance conjures the work of a sommelier more than a nut butter master) to the mission behind the female-led company. Because, of course, Ground Up PDX isn't just making delicious nut butter. They're also helping the world.

They've dedicated the company to tackling homelessness—and specifically female homelessness—in Portland, where the company is based. "Homelessness is a huge issue in our city—and while 70 percent of those living in poverty are women and children, most resources and opportunities are catered toward men," co-founder Carolyn Cesario told mbg. "Through conversation, we learned that women trying to get back on their feet have the motivation to work but may lack the skills, experience, or confidence to be hired by an employer. Working just 10 to 15 hours a week could have a huge impact on a woman’s ability to save up (and gain confidence!) while searching for housing and full-time work, as well as give her job experience that could translate into longer-term employment."

Their solution? A six- to nine-month training program that employs women in transition to work with the company part-time, whether it's in the sales and marketing department or making the actual butters in their commercial kitchen space. "Women gain the job skills, on-the-job mentoring, and ultimately the confidence they need to transition into their next phase of life," Cesario explains. In the year and a half since they began the program, they've worked with nine women, including Ruth, their current production and sales assistant. "Ruth joined the Ground Up team over a year ago, initially as an intern through Outside In teen homeless services," says Cesario. "When she first joined, she lacked confidence in her own work ethic, but she had a positive attitude and a willingness to try new things! In the past year, we’ve seen her take on so many new challenges outside of her comfort zone, from toasting nuts to shipping orders to learning how to use Square at events. While most women work with us for a short time, Ruth has grown into a permanent role with us; today, she’s a mentor to the other women on our team, she’s our master labeler, and she now manages fulfillment, too!"

Photo: Ground Up PDX

They do all of this while remaining a flavor-first company—and keeping health in mind as well. The catalyst for Ground Up PDX was actually Cesario's SIBO (small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth) diagnosis, which required her to eat a diet free from refined sugars, added oils, and peanuts. Because none of the nut butters on the market fit her restrictions, she began making her own, featuring flavors inspired by her world travels, which still contributes to their new nut butter development today. "My co-founder Julie visited a friend’s lavender farm and was inspired to create our Lavender Honey nut butter," says Cesario. "Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop dreaming about Turkish coffee she had in Istanbul, which was the inspiration for our Coconut Cardamom flavor." They're willing to put almost anything in their food processors, a playfulness that's led to some of their biggest successes (Cinnamon Snicker Doodle or Salted Eggnog, anyone?) and a few failures ("Balsamic nut butter is not so good, it turns out," laughs Cesario).

The biggest advice Cesario has to offer other women entrepreneurs, including Ground Up's own program participants? "It’s our nature as women to undervalue ourselves. But you can’t be afraid to pursue your passions confidently and talk yourself up! You have something unique to offer the world, and you shouldn’t let fear keep you from bringing it to light."

Ground Up PDX nut butters are available at Plus, you can make these 10 genius things with a jar of almond butter.

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