This week ISB chats with Chloe Van Dyke, founder of CHIA Limited, purveyor of healthy beverages that has won start-up and health awards in its native New Zealand and that has now added Australia to the list of markets it is exporting to.

ISB: When and how did the idea for CHIA come about?

CVD: In 2012 I was looking for a really beneficial nutrient drink for my sister and friends of ours who are triathletes and wanted something to supplement their training, but I couldn’t find anything suitable. Everyone was promoting what wasn’t in their products – artificial flavours, added sugar and so on – but nobody could claim to an ingredient that was in their drink what was good for you. At the time my dad was rehydrating chia seeds – a proven source of omega-3 acids, fibre, protein and calcium and other important minerals – but his concoction didn’t taste very nice. I started experimenting in my own kitchen, initially adding real apple juice and blackcurrant juice to the rehydrated seeds to create something really palatable. Today we make five combinations of different fruit juices with chia and a couple of fruit and coconut water drinks.

ISB: How did you turn the concept into a viable business venture?

CVD: We started out with a small-scale production operation, selling our juices in the markets of our home town of Nelson in the north of New Zealand’s South Island. When that went well we crossed the Cook Strait to Wellington where the juice was embraced by the café culture, and expanded from there.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting to this stage?

CVD: When we first investigated producing a scalable volume of juice for a viable business we discovered the product was too delicate to be made in to a commercial bottling plant, so we had to design our own equipment to produce it. We won the ANZ Flying Start Award which gave us $30,000 to invest in production. We devised what the process would look like and got expert help to design a high-volume production process.

ISB: So, once you had production nailed, how did you grow the business and what does CHIA look like today?

CVD: A number of agricultural products from the Nelson region are popular in Malaysia and Singapore so we partnered with the distributor who exports them to that region and started selling CHIA there too. This arrangement keeps our costs down as we are able to share containers with our fellow Nelson producers and don’t have to fund the whole logistics chain ourselves.

We work with NZ Trade and Enterprise and Callaghan Innovation, an NZ government agency that helps businesses with technology and Research & Development, and those relationships have enabled us to expand out footprint in the export market.

Today we four full-time employees: myself; my sister, Florence, a former corporate lawyer (and a New Zealand champion triathlete); someone who looks after production and logistics; and an administrator. As this is our first commercial venture I also set up an advisory board to help us negotiate our way through the more complex aspects of running an export business.

ISB: And now you’re in Australia?

CVD: We are indeed, though it hasn’t happened “overnight”. We spent a fair bit of time learning about the market here, and then launched a PR campaign to promote brand awareness. Our juices are now available in this country from 300 stockists – independent supermarkets and health-food shops – with a further push to come in this Australian spring and summer seasons.

ISB: Finally, what was the best piece of advice you have received you could pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?

CVD: Don’t prevaricate trying to perfect your idea, just start your venture and be amenable to change. It won’t work out exactly as you originally foresaw it but that is the joy of the agility and flexibility that being a small business affords you.

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