Producing an award winning seed based beverage
Chia Sisters aren’t just turning primary produce into a profitable value-add beverage business, they’re creating a new model for running a sustainable and ethical business.
With a background in neuroscience and herbal medicine, Chloe Van Dyke set out to discover the world’s healthiest foods. She wanted to create a nutritious fuel for athletes like her sister, triathlete Florence Van Dyke, and one that wasn’t like the offerings on the market at that time - low in nutrition and high in ingredients such as sugar and caffeine.
In 2012, alongside business co-founder and dad, Ben Van Dyke, Chloe hit upon a chia seed based beverage. Chia seeds are loaded with fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and various micronutrients. Within 2 years they were named the nation's healthiest food at the New Zealand Food Awards in 2014. In 2016 corporate lawyer Florence Van Dyke was looking for a role with a more positive impact – so she joined the company.
The personal philosophy of Chloe and Florence drives Chia Sisters. They wanted to create a genuinely sustainable company that was contributing to the community, one that wasn’t about paying lip service to the notions of sustainability but a business that was seriously walking the talk, or riding the electric bike, so to speak. Today Chia Sisters is the only solar powered juicery in New Zealand, Nelson’s first Living Wage accredited employer and has a strong Zero Carbon policy that sees it offsetting carbon emissions by 120% through supporting a native forest regeneration project.
Chia Sisters are driven by a personal commitment to sustainability, zero- waste and giving back to their community. This means operating a zero- carbon policy. When Chia Sisters moved into their new juicery they lined it with solar panels and launched a new range of juices pressed juices called ‘Bottled by the Sun’. The obvious steps for this new range was to source the majority of their ingredients locally and as close to the Nelson base as possible, using apples and boysenberries grown within 30km of the factory. At this stage, the orange mango juice is the only drink in the range to use ingredients sourced outside New Zealand.
In the chia seed range they’re keen to source locally. Chia needs to grow in an area with a good hot summer for the seeds to set, and they don’t like ‘wet feet’. However at this stage, their call for local chia growers has gone unanswered. They are also interested in exploring new plant health foods such as hemp, which formed the basis of their most recent hemp protein smoothie. Future developments are likely to include New Zealand natives.
Chia Sisters work with Ekos, a company that supports clients to go carbon neutral by aiding carbon calculations and providing carbon offset opportunities. Zero Carbon means measuring and offsetting 100% of the CO2
emissions from business operations. This includes parameters such as electricity, waste, freight, flights, fuels and refrigerants. Chloe says they work out their carbon footprint each year and purchase offsets with Rameka Forest, a reforestation project on 91ha of marginal farmland in Mōhua, Golden Bay. Rameka is an Ekos driven project certified under the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. Chia Sisters aim to run a transparent organisation and publish their carbon emission numbers. Last year they produced 22.55 tonnes of CO2, offset by an investment in the regenerating forest at Rameka that equaled a 27.07 tonnes of CO2.
Chloe speaks of the need to constantly track and monitor their footprint, as sometimes the simplest actions can have an enormous impact. She cites an example of a small package of samples they airfreighted to Japan being responsible for 5% of their carbon emissions in a year. Needless to say, airfreighting samples is now on the no-go list.
Taking over a brewery enabled the company to start generating their own electricity. The brewery where they’d installed their equipment for juice manufacture and bottling closed down so the sisters had the option to either close their business or take over the brewery - they took over the brewery. While the cleanup at the site spiked their waste numbers that year, they were able to install solar panels. They now harness up to 16kw of energy per hour during peak sunshine – double the amount needed. The rest is sold back to the grid or is saved as hot water. Being connected to the grid means that at night or on overcast days they can continue to operate off-grid. This experience inspired their latest range of beverages - Bottled by the Sun, a range of pressed juices, which they say was a fantastic way to increase their factory capacity.
From the start Chia Sisters insisted on recycled glass bottles for packaging, yet for the Van Dyke sisters, glass is not enough, and they’re investigating possibilities around selling kegs of juice.
While many businesses keep their operation confidential, Chloe and Florence are determined to succeed by sharing knowledge. They run sustainable business workshops to share their learnings because their philosophy is about creating a more sustainable world, and that means fellowship. Further, they are working with a company that could be seen as a ‘competitor’, but as Chloe explains, to affect real change you need to be able to band together with other beverage companies. For example, she says, think if a majority of beverage companies came together and said they could no longer support the plastic wrapping of pellets for export?
Sustainability, profit and award-winning beverages can go hand in hand. The Chia Sisters have clocked up an impressive set of awards including the Transforming Food Award at the 2019 Sustainable Business Awards; Best Drink in New Zealand at the Outstanding Food Producer Awards 2019; Best Food from the Earth in New Zealand the Outstanding Food Producer Awards 2019 and in the same year Florence made the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list.
Showdown Productions Ltd - Rural Delivery Series 15 2020