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Chia – Nelson Mail – 07.06.16

When I first realised Chloe Van Dyke was the daughter of Ben and Miranda her entrepreneurial attitude made perfect sense.

Way back in the 1980’s Ben and Miranda owned City Lights Café in Hardy St before establishing the NZ Nature Company, a business that grew into one of New Zealand’s first successful on-line retail businesses.

I remember visiting Ben and Miranda not long after they set up NZ Nature Company while they were operating the business from their home and every nook and cranny was packed with products waiting to be packed and dispatched so Chloe and her sister Florence grew up in a home where working hard and being entrepreneurial was the norm.

She launched the Chia drink into the market in 2012 and while there have been ups and downs she hasn’t looked back and was recently joined in the fast growing business by her sister Florence.

I spent an hour talking with this extraordinary pair of young women a few weeks ago and I can tell you right now that you are going to hear a lot more about them in the years to come, Chia is just the start of their business endeavours.

Over the years I have met many outstanding young people but not many have the drive and determination of Chloe and Florence.

Chloe has a science degree with a major and post graduate diploma in neuro-science while Florence studied law at Otago and also has a double major degree in history and environmental studies. After university she worked for the UN in the prosecution office in Phnom Penh for seven months. She was also in the New Zealand Under 19 Triathlon team, came 5th at the world championships in 2012 and has qualified for the world championships in Mexico this year.

Florence has also worked in the corporate team at one of New Zealand’s largest law firms, Bell Gully in Auckland for just over two years, experience that has proved invaluable for the fast growing Chia business.

With science degree in hand Chloe wanted to use her neuro science to create a drink that had a high nutritional content designed to help sports people recover quicker after an event.

Sports have always been a big part of her life, her father is an age-group swimming champion, sister Florence is a triathlete and the whole family is into swimming and running generally so she didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

She says “I am still really interested in Neuroscience but being in a lab coat all day wasn’t really where I wanted to be so I looked at herbal medicine and how plants effects body chemistry.”

The interest in herbal medicine lead her to looking at different super foods and one that came to the fore was chia, a seed that has been known about since the Aztecs and the Tarahumara Indians who used them.

The Tarahumara became well known through a book called “Born to Run’ and part of their story was how they used the hydrated chia seed as a food source.

At a more scientific level really chia seeds are rich in omega 3, packed with complete proteins, magnesium, calcium, iron, electrolytes for natural hydration, high amount of fibre, and antioxidants too. “We test for all of these in the final product.”

“Chia is also quite a sustainable crop to grow” says Chloe, “they don’t need a lot of water and are high yielding making it a high nutrient output crop for little water resource input so it grows in areas other things don’t.”

Chloe and Florence source their chia seeds from Australia because no one grows them commercially here but they can be grown here, it just needs someone to plant them in the right climate conditions. Chia needs a dry period to form seeds, are planted in October for harvesting in February and March and they thrive in dry and hot conditions.

“We would love to be able to buy them in New Zealand so if someone plants chia we will buy the seeds” Florence tells me.

Chloe says the support from local retailers was really important for them when they started, people like Mark A’Court at Fresh Choice who is really supportive of new local products and then Richmond Fresh Choice started stocking the product as well as the organic shop and health food shops.

“Our parents have also been amazing, dad is a world champion swimmer and the experience they have from setting up their own successful business has been invaluable to us, mum is the super-sales-woman, she sells more product that us because she knows how to deal with retailers and does tastings all around the country for us.”

Where to from here? The focus is on growing the NZ market, as well as new flavours they have other products under development, “but the focus of the brand will always be health and innovation” according to Chloe.

Chia is currently exporting to Singapore, Malaysia and the Australian sportswear retailer Lorna Jane has recently started stocking their liquid super-food.

Florence says they want to make sure they look after these markets really well and have established a great reputation before we move into other export markets, but they are on the agenda.

“We share shipping space with Pic’s and Proper Crisps for exports to Singapore and Maylasia so that means Nelson businesses are working together and when you see all three Nelson products taking up a big chunk of one aisle in a supermarket in Singapore it is really cool.”

“Nelson is a big part of our story, we want to work with other businesses as part of the Nelson story, we are really proud to be from this region and want to work with others as much as we can.”

There have been plenty of accolades along the way too, they entered and won the ANZ Flying Start Business Competition, their product won the Health Category of the NZ Food Awards, Chloe won an Ernst & Young scholarship to the Entrepreneur Winning Women Programme, they were a finalist in the Westpac Growth Grant Awards, won a trip to Fiji for the Nurture Change conference and Florence has been selected for the Asia New Zealand Foundation Young Business Leaders Initiative.

And this is just the beginning for this remarkable pair.

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I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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