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In 2013 CHIA was a fledgling Nelson-based natural health drink company with a product finding favour with health-conscious Kiwis, and a big vision for exporting. 
Exporter caught up with co-creator Chloe Van Dyke for a progress report.
Exporter: What have been the milestones over the past couple of years for Chia?
Chloe: As any business can tell you, the first few years are a whirlwind. There are rejections, production goes wrong, equipment breaks, and deals fall over. At the start, when cashflow is tight, any of these things can break you. Most businesses fail within two years. Luckily for CHIA we have had some wins as well and we are experiencing steady growth.
Milestones include winning the health section of the NZ Food Awards in 2014. Then in 2015 we sent our first exports to Malaysia and Singapore; I received an Ernst & Young Scholarship to attend the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program; and CHIA was a finalist for the Westpac Growth Grant.
However, my biggest milestone happened six months ago when I employed my first full time employees. Before then, I was running around trying to keep up. Now I’m able to focus on the future direction of the company. This has included branching out of the beverage category to packaged health foods, including chia seeds and quinoa.
Exporter: Your sister Florence was one of five Kiwi F&B business leaders who took part in the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative in Indonesia in April. How did it go, and how will it impact CHIA sales to Indonesia and Southeast Asia?
Chloe: The trip was incredibly valuable. Florence was able to gain an understanding of the business environment in Indonesia by hearing from experts in e-commerce and branding; meeting with Ambassador Trevor Matherson; interacting with Indonesian counterparts and taking part in the Jakarta Food Connection – a New Zealand Trade and Enterprise food show. Because product registration in Indonesia is difficult, exporting to that country it is not on our immediate horizon, but we do have a great line up of contacts for when CHIA is ready. 
The trip also gave us a better understanding of the export market in Southeast Asia generally. We are building a closer connection with our current distributor so that we can better understand our target market in Singapore and Malaysia. Tailoring marketing, and potentially a new flavour, to this target market is part of our strategy to increase sales. 
Exporter: Explain your strategy for accessing the Southeast Asian markets and distributing your product there?
Chloe: The current focus of our export sales is to strengthen relationships with our distributor and stockists in Singapore and Malaysia. Our strategy for accessing new markets is centred on scouting out ethically-focused health food distributors in Taiwan and South Korea. 
We are also working with a New Zealand company on a China strategy which will, in the first instance, focus on Qingdao.
Exporter: What lessons have you learnt already about marketing a health beverage to Asian countries? And what advice can you share with other Kiwi food and beverage exporters?
Chloe: The most important lesson we have learned is to build strong connections with distributors. Distributors represent a brand. It is important to build a relationship so that there are mutual understandings relating to the stockists, sales and marketing. Working closely with a distributor early on means your product has the best chance of success in the new market. 
This ties into a second lesson we have learned: take time to understand the market you are exporting to. In Asia the packaging, marketing, serving size and flavours of your product may differ to your domestic target market. To succeed overseas New Zealand F&B exporters need to take time to understand the preferences of their target market in the country they are exporting to and alter production as necessary.
Exporter: You won the ANZ Flying Start Business Plan competition in 2013, but in what ways have you had to modify your business plan since then to match market trends?
Chloe: There has been a growing interest in health. People want nutrient-rich food and CHIA provides that as an on-the-go option. 
I think companies always need to be able to evolve. Extending our range has been a part of that, while staying true to our underlying philosophies of health and innovation.
Exporter: What other export plans do you have for 2016?
Chloe: With the recent uptake of CHIA by Lorna Jane in Australia we are now in the process of scouting out a potential Australian distributor. Negotiations are also underway with a New Zealand company for exporting into China. There is great potential for exports but we are still focused on growing the brand in New Zealand. 
Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.