Just two years after Nelson’s Chloe Van Dyke began taste testing with a local swim squad, her CHIA drinks business is selling around 15,000 bottles a month.
“We were looking for a sports endurance-recovery drink,” recalls Chloe Van Dyke about the origins of her natural drink business, CHIA. “My sister is a competitive triathlete, dad’s an age group world champion swimmer. There were no natural drinks available. We started hydrating chia seeds and tested it out with the local swim squad. We found they had more energy.”
Before long Chloe and her father Ben were experimenting with adding anti-oxidant rich blackcurrants and blueberries, testing different flavours on friends. They soon realized the drink wasn’t just for athletes.
“CHIA is a food as opposed to a chemical creation. It’s rich in omega 3, electrolytes, magnesium, calcium, iron, complete protein, fibre, and antioxidants,” Chloe says. That makes it a tasty boost for office workers, and ideal for anyone who could do with a nutrient boost.
After their first bottling in December 2012, things moved fast. Chloe took CHIA to Wellington. “That’s when we knew it was going to work. I started doing it fulltime.” Soon CHIA was being sold around New Zealand.
PLANNING TO FLY
In mid-2013, she entered and won the ANZ Flying Start Business Plan competition.
“The whole process of writing a business plan has really helped. Writing a plan allows you to step back and look at what you’re trying to achieve.It allows you to put systems in place that make things a whole lot easier,”
Winning Flying Start helped them resolve CHIA’s number- one challenge: keeping up with demand. They were able to buy a specialist tank and filling equipment, and a labeling machine. “We bottle once a week. Dad and I mix it up and taste it. We’re quite perfectionists! We want it to be right.”
The big win also led to greater awareness. “We were in magazines, I was asked to talk. We needed to up our production!”
The prize enabled them to get reps to help service cafes and retail outlets nationwide, but at present CHIA is still a “father and daughter“ business. We’re looking at employing permanent staff in the next six months. I need someone to take over from me on the day-to-day management. I want my focus to be on new product development and customer relationships.”
The CHIA range will soon include four drink flavours; Massey University is working on a CHIA bar. Business growth means they are keen to again upgrade equipment. “We have two options. Do we build a factory, or do we get someone else to do it for us? We’re still at the stage of deciding.”
They’ve faced such complex decisions from the outset. “Early on, there was learning how to work with the chia seed. We quickly learned you can’t put it through a standard bottling line.” Then there’s been the challenge of raising market awareness for a completely new product. She doesn’t know of another chia drink in the Southern Hemisphere.
“Understanding the nutritional value is really important,” she says. “We want to encourage people look at what’s in their food, rather than just what’s not in it. It goes without saying that CHIA is 100% natural with no added sugar, artificial flavours, or preservatives — but it’s what IS in CHIA that makes it different. Chloe and Ben feel they need to get CHIA overseas, because the New Zealand market is small. There’s been interest from Australia and Asia but no decisions have been made. As she says, “it’s really important to get the people and distribution right”.