Big things grow
from the seed of
an idea

Leadership Network member Florence Van Dyke is using some little seeds to grow a million-dollar export business.
the chia sisters

The sisters bring very different skills to the table, which adds strength to the business

The 27 year old ditched a high-flying career in corporate law in Auckland to join sister Chloe in developing a beverage business that started in a Nelson garage.

The pair make and sell CHIA and AWAKA Sparkling Coconut Water – the first is a brew of hydrated chia seeds and natural juices, the second, coconut water with a bit of fizz, infused with Kiwi fruits and roots. The goal is to make the world’s healthiest bottled beverages.

The sisters bring very different skills to the table, which adds strength to the business, Florence says.

“A background in law gives me an understanding of the way companies work and how to forge strong commercial relationships. Chloe’s background is also crucial to the business but at the opposite end of the agenda in science and nutrition.”

They supply their drinks to cafes, health food shops and supermarkets in New Zealand, and sales are on the rise.

Overseas sales are still only 20 percent of total turnover, but it’s also on the increase.

Three years ago, they set their sights offshore and started selling their product in Singapore, followed by Malaysia. In the last 12 months they’ve added Australia, Taiwan and Hong Kong to their export destinations. They’ve also recently had interest from other distributors in China as well as South Korea.

Key to succeeding in foreign markets is building strong relationships with customers just as they do at home. It’s been one of their biggest lessons, Florence says.

“Sending product out the door with no follow-up rarely results in a success story. To keep our finger on the pulse, we aim to visit each market every three to six months - getting to know the people we are working with face to face.”

However, it's also important not to assume business is done the same overseas as in New Zealand, she says.

“The best way to gain this understanding is to live a day in the life of your product in-market. Spend a day on the road with sales reps, couriers, merchandisers, and put yourself in their shoes.”

For example, discovering the extra costs faced by courier drivers in Singapore – costs to keep cars on the road, tolls, and parking fees, to name a few – has given them an understanding of why distribution costs are high there.

Forence checking out product samples during the Foundation's Indonesia trip for Kiwi entrepreneurs

For now, in their offshore markets, CHIA is being sold in supermarkets, but they’re looking to expand into food service.

Again, it’s about finding the best way forward.

“There is demand for CHIA in cafes but we need to put time into finding the right distributor so that we can build strong relationships with cafe owners and provide a good service to them.

“We also need to make sure we have capacity to visit each market often enough to maintain these relationships and the funds to go to trade shows and engage in marketing to support these distributors.”

Last year, Florence was one of six food and beverage entrepreneurs from New Zealand to travel to Indonesia with the Asia New Zealand Foundation's ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative.

“I had an amazing time," Florence says. "I learnt a lot from other network members there who are still mentors, friends and some of the first people I bounce new ideas off.”

Since 2015, the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative has taken young New Zealand entrepreneurs to Southeast Asia to build connections and look for ways to break into the Asian market.

The Foundation's Leadership Network is a global professional network at the forefront of developing and maintaining strong links between New Zealand and Asia.

Established in 2007, the network now has about 430 members from diverse personal and professional backgrounds who are based throughout New Zealand, in Asia and beyond.

By Kim Bowden