BEND — Jason Thomas is going nuts.
Pili nuts, that is.
As owner of Pili Hunters, Thomas’ journey of first tasting the nuts, then creating a company and selling these low-carb nuts in the United States, aired on ABC’s “Shark Tank” on Nov. 3. Thomas, a Bend resident for three years, is the fourth entrepreneur from Central Oregon to appear on the popular show that helps struggling businesses by making an investment.
“I didn’t get a deal, but people saw the episode,” said Thomas from his Bend warehouse. “During the show, I got emotional. I was there to try to get some financial help.”
Thomas asked the investors for $325,000 in exchange for a 10% stake in his company. Pili nuts — described as tasting rich and buttery — are high in fat and minerals and low in carbohydrates, the kind of food desired by those on the keto and paleo diets.
The investors, however, declined to invest.
The last company to appear on “Shark Tank” was KidRunner, a modified stroller that allows parents to pull their young children behind them while jogging that appeared in 2016. Before that, La Pine-based TurboPup (a dog treat) received $100,000 from “Shark Tank” investor Daymond John in exchange for 35% stake in the company. And Qubits Toy Company received a $90,000 investment that fell through after the episode aired, according to The Bulletin archives.
As Thomas talked of his odyssey from discovering these nuts while kite surfing in the Philippines, a crew of temporary workers were filling orders. The sound of tape stretching across boxes filled the warehouse space. Boxes of product littered the floor of the southeast Bend warehouse.
That was in July. He didn’t know if his pitch would air. He learned he’d made the cut a few weeks before his “Shark Tank” episode aired.
A week after the show aired, more than $250,000 worth of orders poured into the company, he said.
On the show, Thomas told the judges that he is poised to earn $1 million in sales this year. The product took off in his third year when his revenues rose from $70,000 to $700,000.
Thomas DeLauer, a California-based health and fitness coach who has 14,300 Twitter followers, is a pili nut fan. “All nuts are not created equal. Many are full of pesticides and unhealthy phytotoxins that can cause digestive problems. Pili nuts are the answer. I have used Pili Hunter Pili Nuts for a very long time and honestly feel that they are the highest quality sprouted pili nut that you can find. My 100-pound weight loss would not have been possible without them!”
Most of Thomas’ early sales were from the back of his pickup. And now direct sales account for about 40% of his revenue, he said.
“I had no business experience,” he said on Thursday. “I’ve learned a lot.”
Thomas started the company with $100, a label designed by someone he found on Craigslist and a lot of driving as he offered stores and buyers samples. The first company to buy his products to sell in a store was Erewhon National Foods in Los Angeles. His products can be found in Bend at Newport Market, Market of Choice and Natural Grocers.
“My life is consumed by these nuts,” Thomas said. “Pili means chosen, and it almost feels like the nuts chose me.”