Sarah Steinbrunner, a fourth-year in food science and technology, created a solution for those with a peanut allergy who still want to enjoy the taste and health benefits of peanut butter: BeanNut Butter, an allergen-free, garbanzo bean-based spread.
Free of the eight most common food allergens, accounting for 90 percent of food-related allergic reactions, BeanNut Butter is a solution for those who cannot eat peanut butter and Nutella.
“I took the challenge of taking the staple snack of peanut butter and making it something that I enjoy because it tastes good, but my friends with food allergies can [also] eat it because it’s something safe,” Steinbrunner said.
In March 2018, Steinbrunner started Banzo Foods with her boyfriend, Taylor Crooks, an Ohio University alumnus, to offer delicious and healthy alternatives to those with food restrictive diets and allergies.
“We would like this brand to be the first artisanal spread brand for the allergen-free food segment,” Crooks said.
Steinbrunner created the formula for BeanNut Butter, and the pair began to sell the product at the North Market Farmers’ Market to get consumer feedback.
“It’s such a unique, weird kind of product; we wanted to see how the market would respond to it first,” Steinbrunner said.
BeanNut Butter is also available for purchase through Amazon and is made in three flavors including original, chocolate and spiced cookie.
The team won the Ohio Signature Foods contest in July, which helped in bringing the product to market. In October, Banzo Foods won the Best of Students Startups competition at Ohio State.
Steinbrunner said being a student and running a business has its challenges. Currently, BeanNut Butter is made by hand at a pilot plant at the Food Industries Center at Ohio State, which limits the amount of product that can be produced. She said she is currently working on finding a co-packer to help create larger quantities.
“It’s been difficult balancing time being a full-time student and running a business,” Steinbrunner said. “You have free time that you don’t think you have until you’re pushed to fit everything in, but at the same time, the value of still having free time and running the business and not letting it run you is stressful.”
The past year has been a learning process for the team, and they are seeing the results of their efforts. Crooks recently left his day job to focus on the business development of Banzo Foods, while Steinbrunner looks toward graduation in May.
“I would love to do this full time,” Steinbrunner said. “The reason I went into food science was because I wanted to change the food people are eating, either if it had some function to make them healthier or to help those with eating restrictions to improve their way of life.”