The Boys from Brazil: Ex-DJ puts Amazonian nuts on a platter

Gareth Lloyd and business partner Greg Vickers are betting that nuts will be our next healthy snack of choice
BizAge Interview Team
Gareth Lloyd

DJ-turned-entrepreneur Gareth Lloyd raves over the attractions of Brazil nuts.

“The health benefits are massive as they’re packed with selenium, protein and fibre,” he enthuses. “They’re good for the immune system, for the body to redevelop and heal, low in sugar and that’s important at a time of the highest rates of diabetes, endemic obesity and lowering lifespans, even in advanced economies such as the US.”

He’s hoping that this combination will appeal to Brits when his company White Lion Foods launches a range of snacks under the Truly Nuts brand in time for the Christmas market.

It has been a somewhat circuitous journey for British-born Lloyd, since he met co-founder Vickers at the University of Manchester in the late 1990s. The pair bonded over a love of electronic music. Lloyd has been at the turntables since the age of 15 and as a teenager he had performed an epic set at Glastonbury before the founding father of the festival Michael Eavis had a quiet word.

“Michael came up to the back of the truck at 11am Monday morning and said ‘you’ve had a good time this weekend but you see this house on the hill? This field belongs to the farmer who lives there, and we need to give it back to him clean and tidy so you have to switch it off now’.”

At uni and after, the budding entrepreneurs were DJs who travelled the world performing sets at raves, clubs and festivals and renting out their sound systems. When the music business flagged, Lloyd tuned in to the more buttoned-down world of recruitment and eventually set up his own successful business, Amoria Group, which now has revenues £150m and trades into 40 countries.

But before recruitment and after the DJing continued as a side hustle, regular visits touring in Latin America saw Lloyd and Vickers take an interest in food exports. He and Greg set up White Lion Foods in 2012, five years after Amoria.

“Peru produces some amazing food products, it’s the largest exporter of blueberries in the world, and second largest exporter of avacados ...,” he says, rhapsodising over the native cornucopia of foodstuffs.

“We were initially producing and exporting Peruvian garlic from our farms in the Andes, they produce this purple garlic, the size of a small onion, growing in volcanic soil and irrigated by glacial meltwaters it makes for a great product. You don’t realise until you have travelled in Peru the quality and variety of food there, whereas a UK supermarket may have four or five types of potato, there are four thousand types of potatoes native to Peru. Their chefs are revered around the world and now with things like ceviche that’s finally being recognised, you find Peruvian inspired restaurants in cities all over the globe now.”

White Lion expanded into nuts and demand swelled, encouraging Lloyd to build White Lion’s first Brazil nut facility in the Amazon jungle, initially for the whole sale market but now they are  flavouring with chocolate, and savoury flavours. Savoury flavours have never been added to the brazil nut, a USP for his new brand Truly Nuts, which should open the market up for a nut snack largely ignored apart from at Christmas. Brazil nuts are healthy but there’s no danger of over-farming, he argues:

“Traditionally much of the production was done by small family-run operations and the quality was not always great which at times had a negative impact on the Brazil nut’s perception, but our tech means we get the highest quality product in the market. They grow all across the Amazon where Brazil, Bolivia and Peru connect to each other. Each family has concessions given to them by the governments. They drop every year with 12 to 16 nuts in each pod and many are never collected. You can’t farm them: it’s all organic and it’s so treacherous getting them in and out. There are no roads, so you need a canoe and a motorbike. You can’t farm a Brazil nut, it has to be in pristine rain forest, they are pollinated by a certain type of Amazonian bee and as soon as you cut the rainforest down around it, the tree will stop producing nuts, and die within a few years.”

Volatile pricing due to uncertain yields is also likely to be a deterrent to larger rivals, whereas an established supply chain through links to locals should protect Truly Nuts. Lloyd’s plan is to harvest 5,000 metric tonnes of nuts per year and sell snacks everywhere, beginning in the UK, alongside other healthy nuts such as almonds and cashews.

The nuts sector is, he concedes, a market “dominated by the big boys” but he is taking the middle option of the famous advice to entrepreneurs to “get big, get niche or get out”. Being niche means providing the healthiest options and even the chocolate coated nut option Truly Nuts will offer will have a third of the sugar that a traditional chocolate snack would.

For the future, Lloyd foresees cereals, granolas, snack bars and more. He dreams of a US$100m revenue business in nuts alone and has north America, Singapore and South Korea in his sights as well as the UK and Europe.

But he also wants to give back to the area he loves. His charitable foundation started building houses in the shanty towns of Lima and has constructed over 100 homes over a seven-year period re-housing 500 locals.

“We pay at least 50 per cent over minimum salary for all our factory workers, seventy per cent are women, and we provide workshops and training, access to a health care system and career progression opportunities for all,” Lloyd says.

“We have some staff who have worked for us since our inception, more than a decade, that’s unheard of in Peru. We can do good in a region, provide healthy products and provide people with a sustainable living so they don’t have to log trees. I think that by working together we can do something different that’s disruptive but good for everyone, while giving back to the Amazon region through our NGOs. It’s an exciting time for us, and an exciting time for the Brazil nut!”

Written by
BizAge Interview Team