Very few of us end up working in the field we initially enter. In fact, in 2013 the Washington Post reported only 27 percent of college grads have a job related to their college major. Often, life intervenes, changing our course, and we find ourselves using the same skill sets to succeed in a new role.
Former engineer Ken Condliff didn’t intend to reinvent nut butter and establish a successful business based in Clark County, but that’s exactly what happened. Explains Condliff, “I never set out to make nut butters. That was never my goal. I think I have always been a tinkerer. You know, trying to make things work better.”
When he was laid off during the last recession, he didn’t know if he would ever be able to go back to work. He started tinkering, but not with nut butters. First, it was juice. He purchased a deluxe juicer and set out to make a better V-8, but every new batch brought a fresh flavor horror. “I figured that was not going to be the product,” Condliff says. “I got to reading the manual, and it said, ‘Oh, by the way, you can make nut butters with this.’ I thought ‘Ah ha!’”
Condliff and his family had been eating a healthy diet for years, and he was acutely aware of how lacking in nutrients most processed foodstuffs are. When it came to nut butters, consumers were getting added salt, sugar, homogenizers, palm oils and artificial flavors. Recalls Condliff, “I said ‘No. I am going to go radical. I’m going to blend in healthy ingredients.’ That’s how we pick up a lot of nutrition from our ingredients, and that was a radical concept for the food industry.”
What began as tinkering and a commitment to nutrient-dense foods is now Nut-Tritious Foods. They are a nut butter company that sells the following varieties: almond, cashew, hazelnut and chocolate, pecan, pistachio, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, and walnut. The best sellers are pumpkin seed and hazelnut and chocolate.
Every butter they produce contains an additional five healthy ingredients: flaxseed meal, hemp seed meal, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and organic quinoa. These are broken down into a fine meal before being added to the butters. The bioavailability of the nutrients in these ingredients is increased when they are processed in this way.
He used the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index to determine which potential additives were the highest in nutrient content. Condliff points out, “I didn’t make that up, so it’s not an artificial marketing reference. There’s research behind it.”
In addition, Nut-Tritious Foods makes sure they don’t lose nutrition in manufacturing. They use cold processing. “The cold processing is there to help protect the healthy qualities of the fat. Nuts and seeds have a lot of poly- and mono-unsaturated fats, and every time you heat a fat, you make it less healthy. We cold process to add no additional heat and to try to protect the healthy qualities of the fat,” Condliff notes.
They also toast to order. Rather than relying on large factories or co-packagers, Nut-Tritious’ small group of Clark County employees crafts their product by hand each week. This keeps everything fresh.
It seems like this would be a lot of work for Condliff and his employees, but he assured us that’s not the case, even though the product is carried by local grocers in both the Seattle and Portland region, as well as being sold in local farmers markets. “We have gotten pretty good at it,” Condliff reports. “We have a lot of practice running small batches, roasting and with quick changeover of the equipment. My background is engineering, so it has been an experiment for me to practice what I preach.”
When asked to describe the Nut-Tritious Foods customer, Condliff needs no time to think. He knows these people well. “My customer tends to be nutritionally aware. One of the first things they do with a new product is pick it up and read the nutrition facts. That’s our customer, the one that goes right to the nutrition panel,” Condliff asserts.
How are these people using the healthy product? Condliff says most applications are simple, including stirring it into oatmeal, smoothies and cookies, along with spreading it on apple or pear slices. People use it for snacking, but he also mentions a delicious, more unusual use: salad dressing. He informs us that a bit of pumpkin butter mixed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar makes a great dressing for salads. It’s even good on noodles, especially when you add a little sriracha to spice things up.
In the coming year, the company will be working on moving into California, but they have no plans to move production out of Vancouver. “We are a small, family-based business, and Vancouver is home,” Condliff assures.
If you would like to purchase some Nut-Tritious seed or nut butter, visit their website or look for them at the Vancouver, Lake Oswego, Beaverton and Portland State farmers markets. They are also carried in Chuck’s and New Seasons.