Anybody opening a container of mixed nuts from Western Nut Co., 434 S. 300 West, probably doesn't have a clue that company owners literally go to the ends of the earth to bring them the finest product available.
Nuts come from several of the United States and numerous foreign countries and because of the political unrest in some of these places, Western Nut officials keep their fingers crossed that their source of nuts won't leave their roasters empty.Even though the nut business is interesting, it might be a mistake to do a story about Western Nut at anytime other than a special occasion, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day, etc. That's because the business of seven full-time and five part-time employees runs on an even keel most times of the year.
But between now and Christmas, the business begins gearing up for the holiday season and by December there will be 90 employees, the roasters will be going at full blast and the warehouse filled to the rafters with all sorts of nuts.
At 27 years old, Western Nut isn't old by business standards, but its growth over that time makes it one of Utah's established firms with a familiar name.
Western Nut was started 27 years ago by Wellington McDonald, one of the sons of Mrs. J.G. McDonald, the woman whose chocolates bore her name for many years in Utah. Wellington sold the company seven years ago to Westco Development Co., whose principals, Michael Place, David Gillette and Mack Bay, are brothers-in-law.
Place, who is president of Western Nut, said McDonald started the business on Pierpont Street and always used the finest products and kept his merchandise fresh. "We are continuing that tradition," Place said.
The nuts at Western Nut don't have much chance of getting stale on the shelves because between Thanksgiving and Christmas the company does 40 percent of its business and sales are brisk. The times around other special days like Mother's Day, Father's Day and Valentine's Day are busy but pale in comparison to the yule season.
During the non-holiday and non-special-day times, Western Nut employees are busy roasting nuts for sale in their own store. They also roast bulk nuts under a private label for Associated Food Stores, provide ground nuts for salad bars in JBs Restaurants, provide nuts for Sysco Intermountain and Nicholas Co., provide roasted nuts for Russell's Ice Cream and Farr Candy Co. in Idaho Falls and other customers in several states.
All of this work is accomplished under the direction of Chris Nylander, plant manager, who said 80 percent of Western Nut's business is done in Utah. The company also has an extensive mail order business. Last year Western Nut mailed 8,000 packages out of state, and 6,000 packages were mailed to Utah destinations.
As an example of the company's popularity, Nylander said one woman in Kansas City, Mo., buys about 80 cases or 2,400 pounds of peanuts annually for peanut brittle she makes and sells. "She's been doing that for several years," he said.
At Western Nut Co., peanut oil is used exclusively in the roasting process because it has qualities similar to all of the various nuts. Nylander said peanut oil is one of the more expensive oils, but it doesn't have cholesterol.
He could use cottonseed oil that costs 39 cents per pound but sticks with peanut oil even though it costs 89 cents per pound. Nylander said some of his competitors purchase any type of oil, "just anything that happens to be on sale."
The average person usually doesn't care much where the various types of nuts come from nor how many varieties there are of some of the nuts.
For example, Western Nut handles five different types of peanuts: Spanish No. 1, Spanish splits, Virginia extra large, redskin blanched and redskin jumbo runner. They come from Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma.
There are also five different kinds of cashews imported from India and Africa. "They can't be grown in the U.S. because it isn't hot enough," Nylander said.
English walnuts come from California; black walnuts come from Missouri; pecans come from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona; pistachios and almonds from California; filberts from Oregon; Brazil nuts from Brazil, Peru and Bolivia; and macadamia nuts from Australia, the Philippine Islands, New Zealand and Hawaii.Nylander said Brazil nuts aren't roasted because they turn mushy, so the ones you get in a Western Nut gift box are raw, although they do have some natural oil inside. Because Western Nut doesn't have the capability to dry-roast pistachios and macadamia nuts, they arrive already roasted.
The remainder of the nuts arrive raw and ready for roasting in peanut oil, he said. They come in burlap bags, tins or boxes, and peanut oil arrives in 55-gallon drums.
The raw nuts are placed in roasters (which resemble large deep fat fryers) and roasted for varying times, depending on which nuts are involved. After that they either go into large boxes that are shipped to customers, packaged for sale in the company store or thrown into large mixers for making varieties of mixed nuts.
During the non-holiday or special occasion times, Western Nut employees make up special orders in one-, two- or five-pound containers, but that is impossible during the busy times, said Nylander.
The company is expanding its mail order business and one of the ways is to stuff a company brochure inside newspapers. The brochures have colored pictures of various gift items including five-pound sacks of pistachios and nuts in wooden boxes and plastic containers.
Although the company doesn't have a sales force, Place said he spends $35,000 annually on radio and television commercials just before special occasions, including Christmas. The company has 15,000 names on its mailing list to receive gift item brochures.
Since 1983 when Western Nut was purchased by Westco, the company has expanded five times and now has 20,000 square feet for its roasting, storage and packaging operations. Last year, the company did $2.2 million in business and expects an increase this year.
Nylander came by his manager position quite by accident seven years ago when the company was looking for a salesperson. He inquired and was hired as a manager and to this day there is no salesperson.
A native of Salt Lake City, Nylander was raised in Ogden and attended Weber State College and the University of Utah. He has worked in several grocery stores, was a food broker and sold Hill Brothers coffee for 31/2 years before starting in the nut business.