Sunshine Nut Company and Wegmans are Going Nuts and Doing GoodJan 01, 2017 09:02PM ● By Dave Korba
Don Larson & Bob Finn
Don Larson had a comfortable life in Central Pennsylvania. Being a high-level executive with the Hershey Company had its perks; among them, a Porsche and a hot air balloon. He already had the sports car and the expensive hobby, so it only seems right that Larson’s mid-life crisis would look a little different.
“I was just disillusioned with where my life was going,” Larson says. “For most people, the crisis is that they haven’t made enough. I felt like I hadn’t done enough. I realized I needed to be helping others, and I thought I’d look at the areas where people had significant opportunity, but no one to help them realize that opportunity.”
Larson and his wife ended up in Mozambique, Africa, where they founded Sunshine Nut Company. Their factory produces what Larson says are the best cashews in the world, but the cashews are a byproduct of a much bigger success: 90 percent of the company’s profits are funneled back into the community, where Larson’s work has quite literally transformed lives.
“I had a lot of food background, so that’s where the model came from,” he says. “I’m trying to demonstrate a model that will jumpstart a whole impoverished region. The idea is to build a brand that stands for providing hope.”
The factory—which produces such a high-quality product by shelling and packaging the locally-grown cashews on-site—employs Mozambican workers exclusively. The Sunshine Nut Company has also established children’s centers and vastly improved orphanages and schools in the region. With the help of an international dental team (and the Larsons’ suitcases full of 1,000-plus toothbrushes and toothpaste) more than 1,400 local children have been educated about oral hygiene.
Larson has received global recognition for his work in Mozambique at forums and summits around the world. “The developmental groups and world leaders, at first they laughed at me and said, ‘Good luck with that,’” Larson says. “Well, I was just given an international peace award by the UN. It just keeps expanding, and I keep talking about a lasting solution to poverty. There’s no dignity in a handout, but there’s a lot of dignity in opportunity. They’re not laughing anymore; now they want to have lunch with me.”
Some of the highest praise for the Sunshine Nut Company comes from a lot closer to home. Bob Finn, store manager of Wegmans’ Harrisburg location, knew right away he needed to get Larson’s cashews onto shelves.
“One of our employees is related to Don,” Finn says. “A few years ago, he asked if I’d be interested in selling Sunshine Nuts. Once I saw the story of the company and Don’s background, I thought, ‘This meshes so well with our company’s values.’ I knew I had to bring them in.”
Sunshine Nuts are now selling in 90 Wegmans stores nationwide, and at Finn’s store a prominent “temporary” display has been up for more than a year. “We put up a large display to get things kicked off and get people to recognize the product,” Finn says. “They’re selling so well we’ve had to leave it up. There’s signage about the company, and I see people reading it and understanding it’s not just about cashews. We’ve had customers ask us where they can get more information on the work the company is doing.”
Finn says Wegmans’ values align perfectly with the Sunshine Nut Company, though the two are headquartered an ocean away. “We care about and listen to our people; what he’s doing with this company is going above and beyond caring for his people,” Finn says. “Another one of our values is high standards. His product is truly outstanding. We try to make a difference in every community we’re in; in his community, he’s transforming lives and economies.”
Larson hopes the change he’s brought to Mozambique will spread across the continent, and ultimately, the globe. He has no plans to slow down; it’s clear that his midlife crisis has become a lifelong goal.
“I’m happy. I’m content,” he says. “We go out our driveway into some of the worst poverty in the world. That’s changed us, and made us want to do more and more. When you live amidst that and you see the hardship firsthand, you want to do whatever you can to make change. Well, we’re doing it, and it’s working. We’re here to stay.”
Sunshine Nut Company cashews are available at Wegmans, located in Silver Spring Square, 6416 Carlisle Pike, Mechanicsburg. For more information on Wegmans stores, visit Wegmans.com. To learn more about Sunshine Nut Company, visit SunshineNuts.com.