Around the country in a nutshell

While some 2020 University grads began their first jobs from home, Owen Luterbach went to work in a peanut.


Photo Courtesy of Owen Luterbach

Nina Raemont, Arts and Entertainment Reporter

It was an early Saturday morning back in April. Owen Luterbach had been laying in bed, avoiding homework, when the coordinator of the Planters “Peanutter” program called to notify him that he had gotten the job as a peanutter, a brand ambassador for Planters.

For the next year, he would travel around the U.S. in a 26-foot long Planters peanut, also known as the NUTmobile, spreading the word about all things nuts. Luterbach was so ecstatic at the nutty news that he couldn’t keep it to himself.

“He had woken all of us roommates up with the exciting news that he’s going to be paid to essentially make nut jokes and travel around in a giant peanut,” his former roommate and recipient of the early morning peanut-related wake-up call, Jack Borneke said.

Luterbach is one of nine peanutters accepted to this year’s program. Each year, Planters recruits college graduates for the position and trains them to represent the brand on the road. The three NUTmobiles cover Central, Eastern and Western regions of the country, traveling to around 48 states per year, according to Luterbach.

“I remember, as a kid on road trips, my brother and I would always be the ones waving up to truckers and seeing if we could get them to honk their horn, and now being in the NUTmobile, looking down at those kids that I just was or still feel like. … It’s just the awe and amazement that people have because no one will ever expect to see a giant peanut driving past them,” Luterbach said.

Luterbach was a strategic communications major at the University of Minnesota when he had applied. Throughout college, he had expected to end up at an ad agency after graduation; it seemed like a clear path to him. Then, he studied abroad in Copenhagen last summer and got the travel bug. He figured he wasn’t ready for a normal job in the city just yet and applied to the Planters program.

As a peanutter for the central region of the U.S., Luterbach and his two other peanut partners travel throughout the midwestern and southern states, like Illinois, Arkansas, Georgia and many more. An avid foodie, he appreciates visiting new restaurants and breweries, tasting the local cuisine and practicing his food photography skills. On his days off, he and his peanut partners, Talya Cohen and Allyson Toolen, explore all the local attractions, whether that be the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee or markets in Minneapolis.

 Photo Courtesy of Owen Luterbach

During a normal year, peanutters are sent to big venues, music festivals and corporate events. But since most of those experiences are nonexistent during the pandemic, peanutters are now tasked with scheduling local, intimate gatherings, like visiting nursing homes or birthday parties.

From the photo-ops at stoplights and gas stations to the attention the NUTmobile attracts on the road, Toolen referred to the NUTmobile as “the world’s greatest icebreaker.”

“You want to talk to anybody in the world? All you have to do is drive a 26-foot-long peanut. That’s your conversation starter,” said Toolan.

Luterbach recounts one memory in Tennessee where he forged a new friendship with a resident from a nursing home, all because of the NUTmobile.

While he was parking the car, a resident named Tena Baehm ran out to him to greet him, telling Luterbach that she, too, was from Minnesota. Throughout their interaction, he had learned that Baehm works in the woodshop at the nursing home, making clocks and toys that she mails to orphanages in Haiti.

“The NUTmobile giving me the opportunity to meet these humans that I never would have met before is pretty remarkable,” Luterbach said. At the end of the event, Tena was the last person out with the peanutters.

“I feel like we’re best friends now,” Luterbach said, “and she was a complete stranger.”