With flavors like hot chili lime, coconut, and pure cocoa, Yumnuts Naturals flavored cashews are developing a cult following. However, without the passion and vision of a few active, entrepreneurial spirits, Yumnuts may have never come to be. Blast recently chatted with Tyler Ricks, one of three founding partners of Yumnuts Naturals.
Green tea opened Ricks’ eyes to the healthier side of the food and beverage industry. A former employee of the Lipton Tea division of Pepsi Co., Ricks made an important career decision and moved to Bear Naked, a company formerly based in Connecticut, specializing in granola.
In only 18 months, Bear Naked grew from an $18 million company to a $45 million one, with Ricks having played a strong part in the success. Shortly after this astounding growth, in late 2007, Bear Naked was sold to the Kashi division of Kellogg’s. Decision time again. Not wanting to re-enter the Fortune 100 cubicle culture, Ricks turned down an offer to move to San Diego with the newly-owned company.
Jerome Metivier, a good friend Tyler had recruited to Bear Naked from his Pepsi days, made the same decision. Together they looked at various entrepreneurial opportunities, seeking something small, nimble and growth-oriented, they said.
Little did both of these men know that their perfect opportunity had already been discovered months prior while trick-or-treating. Yes, Halloween trick-or-treating. While still at Bear Naked, both men partook in a marketing campaign — "reverse" trick-or-treating, where college students and Bear Naked employees across the country tricked and treated, and gave out a healthy treat rather than sugar and fat laden chocolate bars.
Behind one of these doors at a home in Connecticut was a man named Mike Cochrane, who noticed the Bear Naked hat Tyler was wearing, and grabbed the opportunity to discuss a business idea he had been developing: flavored cashews. As fate would have it, the next day marked the official closing of the sale of Bear Naked to Kellogg’s.
From there, more serious talks with Mike occurred. The three men, Tyler, Mike, and Jerome, met at Whole Foods and local libraries to flesh out their business plan.
"What drew me into it,” said Ricks, "was the product was fantastic, especially the chocolate. When you taste something that someone is really going to love, that’s where you want to be, you don’t want to pass up the opportunity." They spent months re-branding and repackaging Cochrane’s flavored cashews. In March, Yumnuts Naturals was launched.
Why Yumnuts? They wanted something fun, a name that would stimulate conversation. Not just another "XXX Farms" or generic brand name. "Yum," as Ricks describes the term, is "that blissful moment when you taste something that is really great.”
“My view of it is that there are a lot of other things that give you that feeling. We want to broaden that. Hiking, skiing, snowboarding, playing soccer, kayaking, whatever it is that you love to do, we want to take Yumnuts and build a platform around it,” Ricks said. All three partners (and their families) lead active, organic, and green lifestyles.
Ricks loves vegetables on the grill, and his favorite meal is a recipe by Cochrane: coconut crusted halibut made with coconut Yumnuts.
While immersed daily in healthy, thoughtful product development, there have been obstacles. The biggest challenge thus far? Trying to start a business during the economic crisis. The Yumnuts business plan was finished before the downturn was realized, so the difficulty has been in making necessary adjustments. Financial issues have been the most prominent. As Ricks points out, the hardest part has been "trying to figure out what the baseline looks like and where the economy is going. Assumptions you could make before the financial world fell apart, you cannot make now."
While this statement may certainly resonate with a vast cross section of the country right now, it is important to ask, "Have you said your Yum today?"
Yumnuts flavored cashews can be found in grocery and health food stores across the country, including Stop & Shop, Wegmans, Giant, Martin’s, Roche Brothers, Chamberlains, Earth Fair, D’Agostinos, Food Emporium and A&P. They’re also available on Amazon.