Powdered peanut butter is survival fare, but chunky not available

Matt Hutton

When James Bell eventually begins advertising his product he might want to consider hiring model Fabio to re-create his commercials for “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” Only this time, Fabio could profess “I can’t believe it’s not peanut butter.”

Bell has developed a powdered peanut butter that, when mixed with water, becomes a smooth spread. The owner of Bell Plantation in Tifton, Ga., visited both Hy-Vee stores in Galesburg Wednesday to promote his powdered peanut butter product, PB2, and provide free samples to customers. Usually, he has the product containers turned around as part of what he calls the “three step shock.”

“I just let them taste it. Then as they leave we’ll tell them it’s a powder. They’ll usually take three steps and then turn around and say ‘what?’ ”

Bell Plantation developed the powdered peanut butter after learning the U.S. Department of Agriculture was in search of a light, “super nutritious,” easy to transport food with a long shelf life that could be distributed during emergencies, such as a tsunami. Oh, and it also had to be able to survive being pushed out of a C-130 aircraft at 130 knots.

“If you pushed jars of peanut butter it would be like carpet bombing a village,” Bell said. "The powder can be placed in bags that can be thrown and float gently down to those in need.”

So how exactly does someone come up with the idea for powdered peanut butter?

“I don’t like the expression ‘think outside the box,’ because if you don’t have a box at all, it’s easy to come up with these things,” he said.

The powder is a healthy alternative with 75 percent less fat than regular peanut butter. The only ingredients are peanuts, salt and sugar, compressed at a high pressure. Once opened, the powder has a shelf life of about a year. If it’s still sealed, it’s good indefinitely -- but creamy is the only option.

“At 7,000 psi there’s no crunchy,” Bell said.

About a year ago, the product became available commercially for purchase directly through the company. It only ended up in stores after one Hy-Vee manager heard about it on the Internet and began ordering it personally, and then began buying it for her store. As word spread of its success, most Hy-Vee stores began carrying PB2. A jar typically costs $4.99 and contains 16, two tablespoon servings. The typical mixture is two tablespoons of PB2 to one tablespoon of water, though that mix can be altered to taste.

Bell said he spends no money on advertising, and 50 weeks after the product became available, sales reached $1 million and have increased 20 percent in the months since then “just through word of mouth.”

“When compared to (low-fat) spreads, people choose it all the time. It’s just roasted peanuts,” Bell said.

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