The market opportunity became obvious during the decade Ganesh Nair spent in the diabetes division at one of the world’s largest health-care companies.
“Health care professionals face a challenge,” said SKU alumni Nair, founder of Karma Nuts. “They are not trained in nutrition and behavior modification.”
Awareness of that fact was particularly acute in 2009, as he helped set up a Paris-based nonprofit institute aimed at assisting health care professionals manage diabetes. It was Nair’s final project at New Jersey-headquartered Johnson & Johnson.
Among the problems confronted by those suffering from the chronic disease: “Binging on less-than-wholesome snacks, like deep-fried foods,” Nair said. “I realized how important it was to have nutritious, yet tasty snacks.”
That epiphany was the seed that sprouted Karma Nuts, the California-headquartered cashew company Nair founded in 2014.
A cashew company was the natural choice for Nair, whose family in India has Wenders, a cashew-processing and cashew-product exporting business for 90 years.
Karma Nuts differentiates itself by air-roasting its nuts, and offering shelled cashews still covered by their inner skins, Nair said. Those skins contain antioxidants and fiber, supplying a more nutritious snack to customers, the CEO said.
Nair doesn’t want to compete only with other nuts, he said. The CEO’s target audience is anyone who is about to reach for a sweet or savory snack. That includes those about to eat a chocolate bar.
“We want to be in the consideration set,” Nair said. That’s why Karma Nuts also has “cocoa dusted” and “toasted coconut” flavors. But, the CEO emphasized, its products are “minimally processed with only clean ingredients.”
Karma Nuts and SKU
Karma Nuts participated in SKU Track 5 in 2017, and since then has doubled its annual revenue each year. The company achieved profitability in 2020 and can now can be found in more than 1,000 stores, including Harris Teeter, Albertsons Safeway Divisions and Thrive Market. Karma Nuts also are available on Amazon.
Nair said SKU helped Nair and his team better approach the company’s sales, marketing and operations functions as they sought to scale the business. SKU Mentor Matt Justman, in fact, served as Karma Nuts’ head of sales from 2017 to 2019. And SKU Mentor Michael Hyche, was instrumental in fine-tuning business operations, visiting the startup’s plant in India multiple times, Nair said.
The SKU mentor network provided by Austin’s only consumer packaged goods accelerator also was key in Karma Nuts’ 2019 brand redesign, which included new flavors and packaging. That same network also enabled the company to make connections with the capital community in Austin, Nair said. Karma Nuts was able to secure VC investment last year, he said.
A total of five full-time employees currently work at the fully remote startup. Two are based in the San Francisco Bay Area. The others are located in the Midwest and Southern California.. The CEO hopes to add two sales and marketing positions to the team in the next year. In terms of C-suite-level additions, he said he’ll consider hiring an executive-team member if the fit is right.
“We do have a clear view on where and how we can grow — and we want to continue on that path,” says Nair.