2022 Innovator Award Winner

Young Alumnae Undergraduate | Second Place

Amy Andes, PhD, S’17

Founder and CEO, Banzo Brands

‘Garbanzo Bean Queen’ Amy Andes is Passionate About Making Allergen-Free Food Accessible for Everyone

by Molly Callahan  |  November 1, 2022

With a goal of figuratively and literally making space for everyone eating at the table, food scientist Amy Andes founded Banzo Brands. The brand brings awareness to food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities by creating inclusive versions of classic staple spreads—like a no-nut butter made of garbanzo beans—which ensure people don’t feel left out, uncertain about what they’re eating, or forgotten by the food industry.

Amy Andes’ friends call her the Garbanzo Bean Queen, although her coronation was anything but expected.

“I really did not know this would be my future,” says Andes, with a laugh. But Andes champions the humble garbanzo bean with an ardor that borders on passion, as she’ll readily admit. “Garbanzo beans are a huge part of my life,” she says. “I’ve eaten every hummus that ever existed.”

Garbanzo beans are among the oldest cultivated foods in the world. They show up in early recordings in Turkey about 3,500 BCE (before the common era), and can be tracked even further back in France, where they appeared 6,790 BCE. They’re packed full of good carbs, protein, fiber, and B vitamins, and are a staple in many diets around the world.

And, as Andes has discovered, the beans are endlessly adaptable. Like an old dog learning new tricks, garbanzo beans can shine in a variety of foods; not just hummus. Andes, who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Northeastern in 2017, became interested in food science after she joined a chemistry club at the university.

An early co-op taught her that medical chemistry wasn’t for her, and she was searching around for a good fit for her practical approach to the field when the club brought in a food scientist. “Right away I knew that’s what I should be doing,” Andes says.

During her subsequent co-ops and later, during her doctoral studies at Ohio State University, Andes honed in. Fresh off a co-op at a food-science startup that specialized in making foods free of the top eight food allergens, Andes was interested in using her chemistry degree to make delicious, allergen-free food that anyone could eat.

At OSU, she quickly joined up with a group of students who were competing in a product development competition sponsored by Mars Wrigley—home of famous products such as Dove chocolates, M&Ms, and Snickers, among others.

Her team created a sandwich cookie—two crunchy cookies held together by a fudgy chocolate layer—that won the competition. The best part? The cookies and the fudge were both made out of garbanzo beans in a recipe that was free from the top 14 food allergens.

“That was really exciting, and the moment when I knew that product development, especially accessible product development, was where I wanted to go with my career,” Andes says. Indeed, food allergies and sensitivities affect millions of people in the U.S., according to the federal Food and Drug Administration. Mild allergies can induce hives and swollen lips, while severe allergies can trigger life-threatening anaphylaxis in people.

In 2004, Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, which identified eight major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, whey, and soybeans. These ingredients account for 90 percent of food allergies in the U.S., according to the FDA. Producers are required by law to label their products if they contain or might contain one of these allergens.

European regulators go a step further, identifying an additional six food allergens: gluten, celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulfur dioxide and sulfites, and lupin, which is a type of bean.

Flush from her team’s cookie victory, Andes continued tinkering with the recipe for the fudge, trying out different consistencies and flavors until she landed on a spread that was surprisingly similar to other nut butters (think: peanut butter, almond butter, etc.).

“There are so many times in this entrepreneurial process that I’ve felt discouraged, that my ideas were tossed to the side. But even just one person who says, ‘I see you,’ changes the trajectory completely.”

—Amy Andes, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Banzo Brands

“There are so many times in this entrepreneurial process that I’ve felt discouraged, that my ideas were tossed to the side. But even just one person who says, ‘I see you,’ changes the trajectory completely.”

—Amy Andes, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Banzo Brands

Out of this tinkering Banzo Brands was born, Andes’ company that she says aims to “disrupt the snack market for people with dietary restrictions.” In addition to the original Banzo Butter (pronounced with an “ah” vowel sound, as in “gar-bahn-zo”), Andes created chocolate and strawberry flavors. She’s also experimenting with seasonal flavors, such as pumpkin spice and mint chocolate chip. Just as important as the taste, Andes says, is the fact that all of the butters are free from the top 14 food allergens.

“If we look at foods that are currently made as alternatives for people with dietary restrictions, most of them either taste bad, are bad for you, or are super expensive,” Andes says. “When I was thinking about my career, I first thought I could help people through medicine. But that transformed once I discovered that my passion was really in food science. I know so many people affected by dietary restrictions, and it’s not an insurmountable problem. It just requires a lot of public education, and some foods that actually taste good.”

Andes was recognized with a 2022 Innovator Award, a competition hosted by Northeastern’s Women Who Empower, that drew more than 100 entries in its second year. The award, Andes says, was “a reminder to keep going.”

“There are so many times in this entrepreneurial process that I’ve felt discouraged, that my ideas were tossed to the side,” she says. “But even just one person who says, ‘I see you,’ changes the trajectory completely.”

Betsy Ludwig, executive director of women’s entrepreneurship at Northeastern, emphasizes that the awards go to the woman, not the business.

“As a university, we’re in the business of creating amazing people, entrepreneurs, and innovators who will go do amazing things,” says Ludwig, who is also part of the Women Who Empower team.

“During our selection process, a woman’s current venture or project is important to the extent that it’s reflective of her innovative mindset. We are investing in the woman, the person behind the idea.”

“We want to honor and showcase women who are breaking the mold, solving difficult problems, looking for opportunity, and making a difference,” Ludwig says. “This award lifts up our innovators by recognizing them not just with a grant but through celebration, media opportunities, and by leveraging the power of our networks. We validate these women and what they are trying to do.”

Andes is still pushing forward. With the grant funding associated with the Innovator Award, she’ll have a chance to explore new products as well as new streams of distribution in order to reach as many people as possible.

“Food is medicine,” she says. “What you put into your body affects everything, and I hope to be a positive force for people who usually have to be really paranoid about food. The whole goal of this company is to bring more people to the table—metaphorically and literally.”