Napa Nuts, a Napa-based dried fruit, nut, seed, and candy seller, has altered its business model to serve a large number of individual households and remain open during the pandemic.
“No sale is too small. Everyone just became our best customer,” said Schecky Miluso, who co-owns Napa Nuts with his sister, Bonnie Miluso.
The company, which offers everything from raw almonds to chocolate-covered strawberries, allows customers to order online at napanuts.store or over the phone.
Customers can receive products through car-side pick-ups at the Napa warehouse, free in-town deliveries in Napa and Sebastopol, and shipments via the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and GLS.
Napa Nuts is donating dried fruits and nuts to Napa Food Bank, Napa Fire Department, Napa Police Department, Adventist Health St. Helena in St. Helena, and Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa.
Mirja Chavez, a Napa resident who loves to make biscotti, cinnamon rolls, and homemade granola, said Napa Nuts’ products “always seem fresher than what you buy in the grocery store.”
“They have a huge variety and are reasonably priced. We like to support local businesses,” said Allen Cox, Mirja’s husband.
Schecky Miluso said the change to serve primarily individual households has been a huge shift.
“We are glad that we can stay open and are happy to fill so many orders. We’re following safety guidelines, maintaining the 6-foot distance, wearing masks, and offering contactless deliveries,” said Schecky Miluso.
Schecky Miluso said the company has seen a significant jump in the orders of snack foods, such as gummies, jelly beans, dried fruit, and chocolate-covered nuts.
“During hard times, people want chocolate,” said Schecky Miluso.
Bonnie Miluso said customers sharing their positive experiences on social media has helped spread the word about Napa Nuts’ new business model.
“Our customers have been wonderful,” said Bonnie Miluso. “They’re giving us positive reviews and ordering care packages for their friends and relatives. We’ve learned our customers want to help us.”
The new strategy
Bonnie Miluso said the move to sell to more households started in mid-March.
“We’ve always filled individual orders, but typically sold a much larger volume of products to hotels, restaurants, and businesses,” said Bonnie Miluso. “For example, we’d deliver a few cases of diced almonds for salads and brownies to a restaurant several times a week. All of a sudden, these businesses are closed or began offering limited take-out and delivery.”
The siblings joined the “Help Save Napa Restaurants” group on Facebook, blasted their Instagram account, and posted to NextDoor to announce Napa Nuts would deliver to homes.
“We asked existing customers to share the word online and post about Napa Nuts on social media,” said Bonnie Miluso.
Soon the online and phone orders began to increase. The Milusos then added content and changed the design of their website to showcase their safety practices and ease of online ordering.
“We used to get 10 orders on the site a week if we were lucky. Now we have between 30 to 50 online orders a day,” said Bonnie Miluso.
Schecky Miluso said the company was lucky to have a warehouse full of fresh products and those that will last on the shelves when restaurant closures began.
“It was very difficult to let some employees go. We have been able to hire some of them back (and) now have a full time staff of 11. We had 17 (total) full-time and part-time staff before the crisis began. Every day, we’re making new decisions about how to pay rent, buy supplies, and keep the power on,” said Schecky Miluso.
Bonnie Miluso said she and Schecky have also worked out how to suddenly compete with larger online sellers.
“Luckily, we sell very high-end gourmet products. We’re a specialty store and don’t have a lot of direct competition. In addition, our products are cheaper and better than those at the supermarket, and we offer local delivery,” said Bonnie Miluso.
Customers share favorites
Geoff Estin, general manager at Napa Nuts, said there is a high demand for “comfort foods.”
“People are looking for fun snacks that will get them through the day. Almost no one is ordering pantry staples such as raw products like before,” said Estin.
Tara Rodriguez, a Napa resident, who likes Napa Nuts’ chocolate-covered cashews and bags of mixed dried fruit, said she appreciates that the company offers unsalted natural foods.
“My husband works in health care. I take a product like Napa Nuts’ 5-pound bag of trail mix and separate it into small bags. That way he can share snacks with his coworkers without worrying about cross-contamination,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said in the past two months, local markets have run short of dried fruit and nuts.
“This gives us an alternative, and we’re not priced out,” said Rodriguez.
Janine Durant, who worked as a pastry chef for Bouchon Bistro in Yountville from 2009 to 2015, said she is now getting regular shipments of many Napa Nuts products to her current home in Eureka.
“I’ve ordered their Raisin Mix #5, Crimson Blend, which has a mix of really delicious large raisins, including golden raisins and Red Flame raisins. They make the best oatmeal cookies ever because they’re so huge,” said Durant.
She said previous orders to Napa Nuts through Thomas Keller Restaurant Group taught her the company’s products and prices are exceptional.
“I’ve known them for over 10 years. Although I’m not working as a pastry chef anymore, I still use them to buy seeds for breads and almond flour for macarons and carrot cake. I’m also ordering a big box stuffed with snack mixes, mixed nuts, and dried fruits for my nieces and nephews,” said Durant.
As Bonnie and Schecky Miluso continue operations, their mother, Maxine Miluso, who previously co-owned the business with her husband Allen Miluso, is pitching in from home.
“She’s helping us type orders, but it’s safer for her to be there. She’s very proud of us,” said Bonnie Miluso.
Napa Nuts has already begun offering promotions, such as free shipping on orders over $50 and five percent off with use of the “SUPPORTLOCAL” discount code.
The business is donating one pound of food to the Napa Food Bank for every order of $50 on their online store, with an option to make an additional donation to the food bank if desired. Napa Nuts plans to expand delivery later this spring to Yountville and St. Helena.
“The good news is that we have gained many new customers. We believe they will continue to reorder, even after restaurants reopen,” said Schecky Miluso.
Bonnie Miluso said she and Schecky have taken temporary pay cuts and are trying to be as financially conservative as possible. They’ve weathered similar storms before.
“During the 2014 earthquake, the warehouse got wrecked. After our staff cleaned up their own houses, they came here to help us clean up, on their own time. Just like then, the Napa Nuts family will get through this together,” said Bonnie Miluso.
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