Living Nutz - Portland Press Herald January 2008

 

Heavy mixing, healthy fixings
Operating from a Bowdoinham house, two brothers and their
company think big with organic nut products.
 
By ANN S. KIM, Staff Writer January 25, 2008


 

Doug Jones/Staff Photographer
Neil Vanston stirs in a mixture of cayenne pepper, soy sauce and garlic to flavor some Living Nutz pistachios. The company probably is most famous for its almond snacks, but it also uses pecans and walnuts.

Doug Jones/Staff Photographer
David Dunn spreads pistachios flavored with garlic, soy sauce and cayenne pepper on sheets for the five-day dehydration process, which helps perfect the flavor and texture of Living Nutz products. The Living Nutz kitchen is in the basement of Davy Pruzansky’s home in Bowdoinham.

Doug Jones/Staff Photographer
Seth Leaf, left, who uses his middle name for business, and Davy Pruzansky started Living Nutz because of Pruzansky’s love of food and the brothers’ interest in a healthy lifestyle.
For more informastion, go to: Living Nutz
BOWDOINHAM — It takes time -- and some muscle -- to make a
batch of Living Nutz spicy onion-garlic pistachios.

On Wednesday, Neil Vanston poured the flavoring into enormous
bowls filled with nuts that had been soaked in water overnight.
He and David Dunn worked the batter-like mixture into the nuts
with wooden spoons. The nuts then went on trays and into
dehydrators, where they will stay for five days before being
packaged.

The company, founded by brothers Seth and Davy Pruzansky,
moves about 2,000 pounds of nuts through production this way
each week. There are no conveyor belts or giant industrial
mixers in this kitchen. Aside from a few food processors for
mixing flavorings, the seven-day process is done by hand.

"It's like a craft," said Seth Leaf, who uses his middle name for
business.

The brothers, who are in their early 30s, started selling their
organic nut products in 2001. They've found a niche with
health- and natural-food stores, where customers might be
interested in products for a raw, living-foods diet.

The movement believes that temperatures as low as 116 degrees
destroy beneficial enzymes in food and diminish nutritional
value. Germinating seeds and nuts through soaking is believed
to disarm enzyme inhibitors, remove toxins and make the food
easier to digest.

The business has grown to have its products sold in about 600
stores in the United States and Canada, and this weekend, Living
Nutz snacks will be part of the "swag bags" at the Screen Actors
Guild Awards.

Seth is more eager to pursue growth and Davy is more cautious
in his approach, but the brothers agree that they would like to
get a larger facility, additional equipment and more employees
to aid expansion.

Seth, the elder brother, is gregarious and described by Davy as
the bigger risk-taker. He is in charge of sales, marketing and
customer relations.

Davy, with his passion for food and a personality described by
his brother as inward, is the former company chef who oversees
production but is still involved in all aspects of the business.

They have five employees who work in a ranch house that is also
Davy's home. The shipping area shares space with a TV and
exercise ball in the living room, and DHL trucks back up to the
front door.

The office and a room full of packaged products are down the
hall. The kitchen is in the basement, where dehydrators line
walls and shelves are loaded with ingredients such as raw soy
sauce, Himalayan sea salt and pumpkin seeds.

Living Nutz probably will decide how to pursue growth in the
next six to 12 months, after additional research and discussion
within the company, Davy said.

The possibilities include building on the current property or
relocating, possibly somewhere closer to Portland. The brothers
also have considered leaving Maine for somewhere more small-
business-friendly, not to mention warmer, which would allow
them to sun-dry their products and cut electricity use.

Both brothers believe that expansion will help them stay ahead
of competitors in an increasingly crowded market for organic
snack foods. The offerings were slim -- mostly crackers and
cookies -- when the business started, but Seth estimates that
there are at least 100 companies selling organic snacks now.

"We want to stay ahead of the curve," he said. "The curve is
definitely wanting to catch up."

Organic foods are the fastest-growing segment in the food
business. The U.S. market is worth about $16 billion and has
seen double-digit growth in recent years, according to Gary
Karp, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry
research firm based in Chicago.

"We have every reason to believe the momentum will continue,"
Karp said.

The list of organic products offered by Whole Foods Market is
growing in each sector, whether it's produce, dairy, meat or
snack foods, said Barbara Gulino, marketing team leader of the
Portland store.

She said the store has had strong interest from customers
looking for specialized diets.

Gulino believes customers who buy Living Nutz like its local
identity, the raw nature of the product and attractive, convenient
packaging. She said the brothers' in-store product
demonstrations also have helped.

"They're great. They have a story. They engage a customer,
they're not afraid to talk to the customer," she said. "It makes a
huge difference."

Expanding the company could help Living Nutz increase
production, which would mean the company might save on
ingredients by buying them in greater quantities and therefore
bring down the price of the product.

Each four-ounce package sells for $6 to $8, depending on the
flavor, on the company's Web site, www.livingnutz.com. Store
prices might be higher.

Living Nutz has its roots in another family business, Maine
IntelliHemp Co. The brothers and their parents, Stephanie and
Howard Pruzansky, who left New York to live in Maine, made lip
balms and other body products with hemp oil.

The brothers decided to pursue food products because of Davy's
love of food and their mutual interest in healthy lifestyles. They
first tried a breakfast cereal with about 15 ingredients, which
turned out to be time-consuming and complicated to make.

The nuts came later, after Davy applied some of his sauces to
almonds. Although their products also include pecans, walnuts
and pistachios, the pair are still known in health-food circles as
The Almond Brothers.

The nut business has not been without its challenges. There was
the spring that the basement flooded, and the time the walls and
floor were stained with juice during the dehydration of 2,000
pounds of blueberries.

Last year, new rules required pasteurization of U.S. almonds
through fumigation with propylene oxide or high-heat methods
-- neither of which was in line with the company's philosophy.
Living Nutz now imports its almonds from Europe.

These days, Davy and Seth are reveling in the anticipation of
their products' reaching a celebrity audience. Living Nutz relies
on word of mouth and its Web site for promotion, but its
inclusion in gift bags for celebrities at the SAG Awards show on
Sunday makes the brothers think of the possibilities -- perhaps
some TV appearances or turning stars like George Clooney into
devoted fans.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

akim@pressherald.com

 

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