Insights from Gael Orr, Once Again Nut Butter

Orr talked to WholeFoods about the benefits of employee ownership, industry trends, new products, and more!

As a child growing up in Dayton, NY, Gael Orr was brought up eating Once Again Nut Butter. She remembers her mom’s excitement over having a local company in town that produced organic almond butter. That young girl had no idea the company would one day become her life’s work. “I saw they were looking for someone in branded sales, and I got really excited,” Orr tells WholeFoods. Today, Orr is the Director of Marketing at Once Again, overseeing the company’s brand image. 

When you purchase a Once Again product, you may be surprised that their logo is a raccoon—Rocky to be exact. Nearly four decades years ago, when the company was starting out, baby raccoons (called kits) were discovered living on the factory grounds. Employees fed the kits their products before releasing them into the wild. They named one of them Rocky, and the mascot was born. 

Benefits of Employee-Owned

This sense of caring is a model that has been a constant throughout the company. Founded by husband and wife team Jeremy Thaler and Constance Potter, Once Again is employee owned and follows the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) model. According to Orr, Thaler and Potter “were the quintessential hippies, all about empowering the people.” And they have continued to do that to this day. The ESOP model was adopted to serve the employees. “It benefits the employee in that they have a say in how the company is run,” Orr explains. “It greatly enhances a person’s job performance, where they can control their own destiny. You don’t always get your way, but you always get a say.” 

The ESOP model is followed throughout many facets of work, including opportunities for employees to join teams and committees that may relate to interests workers feel strongly about. That said, being a company that allows so many hands in the pot can sometimes be overwhelming. Orr, who sits on the Board of Directors, reflects on balancing her role as a company leader and employee.  “I have to balance what’s best for the business, employees, and our shareholders. It takes a different type of approach because there are ethical decisions and profitability decisions. It takes an extra level of communication and it really takes transparency to make all that functionality come together. ” 

The impact of COVID was also felt on Orr as the company struggled with supply chain issues. “When you can’t get materials that you need, and that’s constant, our concern is are other people struggling? How are other companies doing order fulfillment?” But one thing that stayed constant was the loyalty of the employees. 

Another point of excellence at Once Again is how dedicated the workers are to delivering the best quality and delicious-tasting products. “We’re feeding it to our kids, grandkids, etc.,” Orr says, “so our employees are invested in making sure the company produces a high-quality product.” 

Looking to the future

As the company continues to grow, so does its line of offerings. Recently, Once Again released sandwich crackers that Orr says are the only gluten-free certified organic sandwich cracker. No other company is doing both, she notes, and the Once Again team of developers have already been working on new flavors to roll out in 2023. The company is also planning to develop more products in the snack category, Orr adds.

When speaking about recent expos, Orr mentioned the heavy handed use of plant-based, noting “A lot of people are calling out plant-based, when it’s not needed. At what point are we insulting the consumer’s intelligence?” Orr quipped.

Once Again tries to be as transparent as possible. “We have a triple, bottom-line approach to sustainability, so we look at the impact of our product on the planet, from an environmental aspect and we also look at the social justice issues surrounding our products,” says Orr. “People are treated well in our supply chain. Some of our products are fair-trade certified. These things really set us apart.”

Once Again’s organic and natural products are all Non-GMO Project Verified, kosher, and RSPO certified for palm oil products.

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