Seeds of success

CHIA is a fledgling Nelson-based natural health drink company with an award-winning business plan and a product finding favour with health-conscious Kiwis. NZBusiness caught up with its co-creator Chloe Van Dyke.

You get the distinct feeling that the Van Dyke family is extremely fit. Here are some clues.
The idea behind their Nelson-based business came from the desire to create a nutrient-rich drink to have before and after exercise. Chloe Van Dyke’s dad Ben wanted a recovery drink for his swimming. Her sister, a triathlete, needed something to keep her going and allow her to train hard.
Chloe prefers a slower pace, running in the hills, and was looking for a drink to have before setting out “that wouldn’t sit heavy, but keep me going”.
Such a special drink would require a unique point of difference, and the Van Dykes found it in the amazing little chia seed.
“We were introduced to chia seeds about eight years ago,” says Chloe. “I started researching this seed and discovered it has a history of use dating back to the Aztecs and Mayans. Chia seeds became popular through the book Born to Run, the story about the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, known for their ability to run over 100 kilometres through the dry, desert mountains of Northern Mexico, sustained by hydrated chia seeds.”
Chloe explains that the seeds must first be hydrated. This causes them to swell and allows a sustained release of nutrients and prolonged hydration. “So we started to swirl in antioxidant-rich Nelson blackcurrants to the mix; the result was CHIA.”
Chloe and Ben Van Dyke had a great product – and thanks to the ANZ Flying Start business competition (organised by, they also had a sound business foundation.
“I entered the Flying Start business competition last year before I even had a product,” explains Chloe. “Back then I was in the process of developing CHIA; a project for the weekends and after hours.
“The process of writing a business plan made me look at viability, risk, competition and potential. I reached the regional top three. But this year I had the stats to back up my original plan; CHIA was growing fast, I’d left my day job, and it was all hands on deck to keep up.”
Fitting the time in to enter was a stretch, admits Chloe, “but once again it made me sit down, do the numbers, and most importantly plan beyond the next ten minutes. Whether you end up winning or not, taking the time to create a business plan, and keep it updated is a great way to offload, and formulate for the months ahead”.
The prize package worth more than $58,000 will be used to purchase much needed bottling equipment, assistance with health and brand awareness, advertising, IP, business courses, and most importantly mentorship.
Chloe says preparing a business plan allows you to offload all your ideas, worries and goals onto paper. Then it lets you compare those with market realities.  
“It lets you know what is working well, and what needs to be improved on. It provides the steps forward. This process has definitely improved how I run my business.”

Team effort
Anyone attending the ANZ Flying Start winners ceremony in Wellington last September would have seen the bond between Chloe and her dad, which has obviously been a positive for the business. “We have a really good relationship,” says Chloe. “We know each other well; we know what each other is good at, and we can discuss and disagree. Dad is more productive, and has more ideas and enthusiasm after he has had a good swim in the morning; so I see that as being an essential part of the day – with recovery from a bottle of CHIA, of course!”
Launching a very different product to market has had it challenges though. If people don’t know a product exists, who’ll go looking for it?
Chloe explains that CHIA is nutritionally superior to other drinks. “It’s rich in the nutrients that most of us need more of in our diet: Omega 3 for brain, heart and skin health; minerals (magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc) for adrenal function, strong bones, energy and immune function; electrolytes for prolonged hydration; complete protein with all essential amino acids; fibre for digestive health and cleansing; and anti-oxidants.”
But without education nobody will know the difference between CHIA and the drink next to it she says, which makes tastings and staff education fundamental.
“The advantage with a unique product is that there is no competition. Word of mouth has been a huge part of our growth as people start to notice the benefits to their health and energy levels.”
The Van Dykes have also had production challenges. CHIA cannot be made on a standard bottling line and requires specialised equipment. It also has a fragile consistency and an optimal hydration point.
“When Chia hits water it swells to nine to ten times its volume,” explains Chloe. “A gel is created around each seed, which allows a sustained release of nutrients and electrolytes; but most filling machines destroy that gel. A lot of Kiwi ingenuity has helped us along the way, and new equipment is in the pipeline.”

Lessons learnt
Being willing to learn and being well organized has stood the Van Dykes in good stead. It’s perhaps best summed up in Ben’s favourite quote (“it takes all the running you do to stay in the same place”) and Chloe’s best-loved Alice in Wonderland saying: “if you want to get anywhere you need to run at least twice as fast as that.”
Before starting the business Chloe knew about health, the effects of nutrients on the body and how they are absorbed – but had no training in business, product development and production, marketing, sales or accounting.  “Now I do all of these things, we are learning every day.”
She always follows up on recommendations. “If someone suggests you should meet with a certain person then go for it, you never know where it could lead. Meeting with the ICEHOUSE is a good example.”
Her advice is never hold back. “I was nervous the first few times I walked into a café to sell CHIA; and nervous pitching to a Dragon’s Den panel of judges for the Flying Start competition. But doing things outside your comfort zone takes you to the next level and opens doors.”
In two years time the Van Dykes hope their product will be available nationwide. New flavours, sizes and other nutritionally rich products are planned and they hope to distribute to Australia and Asia, where there’s growing interest.
They’re grateful for the support they’ve had. Nelson’s a hub for start-ups and CHIA has followed in the footsteps of Pic’s peanut butter, Proper crisps, Orinoco vineyard and Pete’s lemonade – who’ve provided knowledge, information, contacts, and shared equipment.
“Because CHIA is so unique it was a gamble for a supermarket or café to take us on board,” says Chloe. “So a big ‘thank you’ to all those who got behind us in the early days.
“The new prevailing attitude of getting behind healthy options is growing fast in New Zealand, without which we wouldn’t have made it. The timing has been absolutely right.”

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