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Jason Lee and Chris Seah, the co-founders of Big Nuts in Penang, come from vastly different backgrounds. 

Jason, a culinary expert, ran a successful Italian restaurant in Penang for three years. Chris, on the other hand, thrived in the corporate world as an Inside Sales Executive at Dell. 

Despite their contrasting paths, both found themselves at a crossroads, yearning for a change. For Jason, a rent increase forced him to close his beloved restaurant. Chris, presented with a Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS), saw an opportunity for a new adventure.

A shared passion, a nutty idea

Fate intervened when Jason and Chris connected, their shared passion for healthy eating paving the way for a new venture. 

Big Nuts wasn’t an overnight epiphany. When they first started in February 2014, it was a home bakery called White Houze. They began with simple products such as carrot cakes, brownies, and lunch boxes.

With hard work, their little venture grew, and they got busy. In the meantime, Jason and Chris’s personal health journeys fueled their initial experimentation with granola and muesli. 

Image Credit: Big Nuts

“16 hours a day, seven days a week, we baked day and night fulfilling orders for nearly two years. We were always improving our baking techniques and recipes, always moving forward almost obsessed with perfecting our craft.”

“The 16-hour days were extremely taxing, so somewhere along [the way] we decided that we should at least eat a little healthier. That was how we started roasting nuts and granola for our own consumption,” they said on their website. 

Witnessing firsthand the positive impact on their digestion and overall well-being, they were inspired to share the benefits of clean eating with others. 

“To our delight, these products were well-received at the morning market where we usually sell, and this marked the beginning of our successful journey of Big Nuts,” Jason and Chris told Vulcan Post.

They started educating their customers, promoting healthier snacking habits, and setting the path for a more mindful approach to nuts.

Nuts for healthy eating

The name “Big Nuts” might initially raise eyebrows, but it is to highlight the substantial big health benefits that nuts offer.  

Image Credit: Big Nuts

While some existing customers were initially puzzled by the changes, the bold name attracted a new, younger demographic interested in their branding.  

“We even placed a giant almond outside our retail store that catches the eye of many passersby,” said the founders. 

Big Nuts’ journey started with granolas and nuts. Their Original Nuts and Cranberry Granola paved the way, followed by a variety of flavours using ingredients like dark chocolate, pure gula melaka, and authentic matcha powder. 

Trail mixes packed with diverse nuts and dried fruits expanded their offerings. 

Popular choices include the Deluxe Mixed Nuts, featuring seven varieties with no fillers, and the Original Nuts & Cranberry Granola, beloved for its clean taste and aromatic oats. 

Image Credit: Big Nuts

Almond Stuffed Dates, a delightful blend of sweet and salty flavours, are another fan favourite.

According to Jason and Chris, in a market saturated with roasted nut options, Big Nuts stands out by prioritising quality above all else. 

Nuts are meticulously prepared, slow roasted to preserve nutrients, and free from added oils. These oven-roasted methods are typically employed by other healthy nuts brands too such as SnackRight and Amazin’ Graze.

Image Credit: Big Nuts

“Back in 2014, when most nuts on the market were prepared with oil roasting, we opted for a clean roasting approach,” they said.

Their innovative FUEL on-the-go (FOTG) line takes it a step further, featuring nuts washed in a special machine for exceptional cleanliness.

Growing with grit

The early days were a whirlwind of work, with little time for breaks or holidays. Recognising the need for balance, Jason and Chris learnt to set boundaries and prioritise their well-being. 

However, their dedication to quality remained unwavering. They meticulously refined their formulas, seeking feedback through customer samples and taste tests at pop-up booths.

As demand soared, Big Nuts adapted. They expanded to a larger facility, increased oven capacity, invested in better packing machinery, and even grew their team.

Image Credit: Big Nuts

“Continuing our focus on growth, we’ve invested in research and development to diversify our product range, established standard operating procedures, and pursued halal certification that affirms the quality and cleanliness of our products.”

“Our approach has always been ‘one step at a time’—expanding only when the business is stable and cash flow is sufficient,” they shared.

Every step was measured, ensuring the business was stable before expanding, a testament to their cautious yet determined approach.

Cleanliness from source to shelf

Sourcing ethical suppliers is paramount for Big Nuts. They carefully inspect their stock upon arrival, looking for mould, rancidity, and overall cleanliness. 

“Regretfully, we do encounter challenges like suppliers mixing shipments with mouldy nuts or selling nuts to us that were past their expiration with the date has been altered. We would swiftly end relationships with unethical suppliers,” they said.

Each batch is meticulously selected before roasting and undergoes multiple filtering stages—all done by hand. 

Image Credit: Big Nuts

Even then, they acknowledge the possibility of a tiny piece of debris slipping through despite their measures.

The production process at Big Nuts is a symphony of dedicated work. The production manager schedules daily operations, ensuring raw materials seamlessly reach the baking area. Here, the baker initiates the filtering and roasting process, meticulously checking each batch to ensure consistent quality. 

Nuts undergo precise baking with exact parameters to achieve perfect results every time. 

Simultaneously, the granola team prepares ingredients, hand-mixing each batch for optimal flavour, similar to the philosophy that smaller portions yield better results in dishes like char kuey teow, as the founders put it.

After cooling, products are weighed, packed, and rigorously inspected before leaving the facility.

Transparency, affordability, and a healthy future

Balancing affordability with quality is a constant challenge, especially in today’s economic climate. 

“In recent years, nut prices in Malaysia have increased significantly, driven by many factors. If we were to mention some of it, increased consumer demand for healthier snacks and diets has played a significant role in driving up costs.”

Image Credit: Big Nuts

“Not only that, increased production and transportation expenses have also contributed to these price hikes,” they noted.

Still, Big Nuts strives to make healthy snacking accessible to everyone. Strategies like bulk buying during price dips, cost-effective packaging, and streamlined production processes help keep prices competitive. 

Direct-to-consumer sales through online platforms and health food stores further minimise distribution expenses.

With a starting capital of RM4,000, Big Nuts has achieved remarkable year-on-year revenue growth of 30% to 40%, all without paid marketing or advertising, the founders claimed. 

“Looking ahead to 2024, we plan to allocate funds towards marketing, confident that this strategic investment will drive even greater revenue growth,” Jason and Chris shared.

They aspire to be the leading provider of quality nuts and healthy snack options, offering complete transparency in pricing and ingredients.  

Opening physical stores in central Malaysia and expanding production capacity are all part of the plan. 

Their ultimate goal is to be recognised as leaders in promoting health and wellness through delicious, nutritious products.

  • You can learn more about Big Nuts here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Big Nuts

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