According to company co-founder Dr James Costello, “Our secret is in the processing of the nut.”
“The pili nut is the most difficult nut to process, and it takes a couple of days at a time for processing,” he told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Mount Mayon’s pili nut processing is carried out at its new Subic Superfood factory and kitchen complex, and its unique technique is a 17-step sprouting and slo-dry process.
“The nuts are not cheap due to the complexity and length of the process, which means that the price narrows our target market. That said, we are looking at a more niche market [and] positioning our pili nuts as a ‘healthy gourmet’ item,” added Dr Costello.
The company believes that the health benefits that pili nuts can bring can definitely justify its premium pricing.
“The health benefits of pili nuts are arguably the highest amongst all the nuts – it’s Asia’s new supernut,” said Dr Costello.
“Pili nuts only grow in volcanic soil, which is very rich in minerals and nutrients, and are highly nutritious due to this rich terrain where they grow.
“It has higher levels of vitamin E and magnesium than any other nut – vitamin E is very good for the skin, which is why we are also calling it the ‘beauty nut’.
In addition, pili nuts appeal to consumers undertaking a variety of diets from paleo to keto to gluten-free and more, as it has some of the lowest carbohydrate content around too.
“All our nuts are wild-crafted, non-GMO, kosher, halal, vegan certified, GMP, and HACCP certified too,” he added.
With regard to allergenic properties, he said that although not confirmed, the nuts tend to grow wild with little cultivation so the likelihood of allergens was low, as these usually appear if highly cultivated, hybridised or genetically modified.
“In the United Kingdom, we wanted to put a tree nut allergy warning on the label, but due to the lack of allergy information available, the government did not allow us to do this. There is a warning on-pack in the United States though,” said Dr Costello.
Mount Mayon’s pili nuts are available in five flavours in a variety of packaging sizes. The original three were Raw Pink Himalayan Salt, Ecuadorian Cacao, and Kyoto Matcha, and these were recently joined by Chiang Mai Chilli Lime and Kerala Coconut Curry.
Upcoming innovation plans include a pili nut butter, which Dr Costello said has been touted to be the ‘peanut butter killer’, which will be launched in June this year.
Markets and expansion
At present, Mount Mayon products are available in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau, France, Germany, Dubai, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“We will also be starting in Korea in May this year, and hope to get to Singapore soon as well,”, said Dr Costello.
Philippines is the company’s biggest market at present, and they hope to ‘scale the goodness’ of the pili nut trade by creating a sustainable agricultural economy in pili nuts to improve the country’s economical and agricultural image worldwide.
“We have our own Mount Mayon Co-operative, which is owned by farmers and gives them their independence and free trade options. We don’t force them to sell their nuts to us, but do lock in dependable pricing agreements,” he explained.
Many of Mount Mayon’s pili nut farmers are in the Subic Bay area, and are from the indigenous Aeta tribe.
The pili history
Dr Costello added that pili nuts have existed in the Philippines for millennia, but never really gained popularity as an export or premium product due to its notoriously difficult preservation and handling.
“When we were first looking at bringing it to Macau and Hong Kong, investors told us not to do it because the nuts are so hyper-sensitive and boil so easily – any small mistake can turn a good nut into a bad nut,” he recalled.
Pili nuts also contain oils that spoil very easily, leading to very difficult preservation such that the nuts rarely made it out of the country.
“The last new nuts to come around were the pistachio from Iran/Persia, and the macadamia from Australia – these were introduced quite some time ago, and pili is something new and fairly unknown [to the world],” added Dr Costello.
He added that Mount Mayon’s process is based on ‘ancient health enhancing processes’ and is very difficult to copy.
“We pay exceptional attention to all detail, as well as a lot of time on quality control - it’s not just shaking from the tree, roasting and selling like for most nuts. [Our nuts] are carefully hand-processed from cracking to canning.”