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Nuts About Snack Food

Walking, talking vending machines are dispensing healthy snacks in offices and other businesses throughout Missouri, thanks to a company called LB. Nuts & Fruit Too. The five-year-old Columbia company delivers pound bags of snack mixes with names like "Ozark Gorp," "Katy Trail Mix," and "Naeho Average Mix" (not your average mix, get it?) directly to workers at their desks. Seven franchises have opened across the state, including one in the countrymusic boom town of Branson. Last year, LB. Nuts' revenues hit $400,000, including franchise fees.

Founder David Hockett started out in 1990 with 18 products—all mixes of nuts, dried fruits, carob, or chocolate. He created catchy names with a local twist like "Capital Crunch," for a mix marketed in Jefferson City, the state capital; and "Marshall Munch," for the town of Marshall. Hockett got his nutty idea while delivering packages for Federal Express in Columbia.

"I was going in and out of these offices talking with people, and I kept healing things like, These snacks in the vending machines are junk,' or, That stinking machine ripped me off again/ " he says. "I thought, 'Boy, if there was a business that would provide nutritious snacks, I'll bet these people would eat it up.' "

After pricing, testing, and collecting the various components of his mixes and setting up a workstation in his basement, Hockett persuaded business managers to sign agreements allowing his neatly uniformed employees—the walking, talking vending machines—to visit the firms' offices twice a month to sell snack foods desk-to-desk. "I opened my first route where I had been delivering FedEx, and all of those ladies knew I was coming," he says. "When I took some vacation time and stalled my business, they were ready and waiting." The snacks cost considerably less per ounce than regular vending-machine fare, according to Hockett. "Plus, you don't have to kick our guys to get your change back."

The only problem was that customers wrere crunching through their supplies much too quickly for the visits each two weeks to be adequate. Demand rose for a storefront outlet where people could restock their desks, buy snacks for home, and pick up unique Missouri gifts. Hockett opened a store in Columbia in 1990, and sales there have been steady ever since—except at Christmastime. "Business goes nuts during the holidays," he says. Sales in November were up 98.5 percent from the preceding year.

13, Nuts products also are sold at Bass Pro's Outdoor World in Springfield—huge store for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the state—and at Bass Pro's second ntegastore, in Atlanta. Hockett's c Columbia drn ers stop at about 400 area businesses. One company e mails all employees when LB. Nuts is in the building; a local bank announces it over the public address system.

All the franchisees get their snacks directly from the mam store in ('oluinbia, where Hockett's 10 person staff mixes, packages, and labels the bulk ingredients. And the name of Hockett's compam That came at a stoplight when he saw a Porsche with the license plate 'M.Ik Flyn." k i thought,'What about LB. Nul ?'] had considered Nuts Over Missouri," Hockett says, "but that wasn't going to work. I w already thinking about expansion."

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