An interview with the maker of Sunshine Nut Company Cashews Roasted with a Spark of Spices, a Phil's Food Reviews Pick of the Week.
Welcome to the first in our new series of interviews with producers of new products chosen in Phil’s Food Reviews as Pick of the Week! This week we talked with Don Larson, CEO & Founder about Sunshine Nut Company Cashews Roasted with a Spark of Spices. He told us how his cashews are different, how 90% of the profits go to the poor and orphaned in Mozambique, how Facebook feedback helped with developing the packaging, the challenges of developing a product in a third world country, and more.
What inspired you to create your new product? Is there a particular niche or segment of the market you were focusing on?
My plan is to create many new products that will help the poor and orphaned of sub-Saharan Africa. My family and I moved to Mozambique back in 2011 to start a cashew roasting company employing mostly young men and women who were abandoned or orphaned in their youth. Roasted cashews was a product where I could capture freshness right where it is grown to have an advantage in the marketplace. I knew that my seasoning blends should enhance the incredible flavor of a cashew and not hide it, so the four flavors I selected to produce allow the incredible flavor of the cashew to shine through.
What makes your product different and able to stand out against similar ones? How important has differentiation been in developing this product?
Cashew trees are all around the Sunshine Nut Company factory here in Matola, Mozambique. The country is full of cashew trees. What we are able to do is roast them, season them and get them quickly into the best packaging once they've been taken out of their protective shell. This captures the freshness and amazingly crisp bite that we feel is unique to our brands. Most of our competition gets their cashews from shelling companies in either India and/or Vietnam. The problem is that it can take months to over a year for them to get to the roasters - allowing air and water to take away from their freshness.
What was the process like of designing your package, and how do you feel the final result has impacted perceptions of your product?
We wanted a package that was vibrant and stood out - but in a tasteful way. Many of the major retailers who have taken us on have remarked that it is an incredible look. They wonder how something so good could come from a small start-up in Africa. It was the back and forth work between me and my package designer in Cape Town that created the look. We had lots of help though. I would get to a certain point of needing outside input, and I would post options to my FB account. Hundreds of my friends would weigh in. We got guidance from them on many things - which made the final result quite special.
Does your product have relevant health attributes? What are they?
Cashews have many excellent health benefits. Their fat is beneficial in improving circulation, reducing risk of heart disease, and providing a feeling of fullness which aids in weight loss. They contain many trace nutrients and are great for brain health and well being. It is a rewarding feeling to be making a product which is both great tasting and healthy.
What sustainability efforts have you made with your product?
Our whole mission as a company is to bring lasting economic transformation. We give 90% of our company's distributed profits back to the poor and orphaned in Mozambique. We bring a market for over 50,000 cashew farming families - some of the poorest people in the world. Recently we began a cashew tree planting initiative where my family and our employees handed out 2,000 free cashew trees among the remote village communities and helped them plant them on their small plots of land. Our plan is to distribute 50,000 trees in total.
Through creating a new product, what would you say were the most difficult parts of the process and what came the easiest?
All of it was a challenge to do in a third world country - but challenges are exciting and make life worth living. I have done much of these types of things given my 25 years in the food industry. What I haven't done is develop products. That I did in my Mozambican kitchen. It was lots of fun to have friends come over to sample my developments in order to perfect the taste I wanted.
Anything you would change if you were starting from scratch again?
Not a thing. It has been a wonderful process, and it is just beginning. Wait until you see what we develop next!
Besides your product, what's one out on the market that you admire?
We have lived in Mozambique for over four years and have developed a very simple, unprocessed diet. We also do not have access to the plethora of new products on the market. But one I liked a lot at a recent food show was Snack Factory's Sriracha and Lime Pretzel Crisps. We don't have pretzels in Mozambique, and I miss them.