A growing number of mainstream consumers want to add chia to their diets, yet many are wary of high calorie and sugar counts in products formulated with the trendy and nutrient-dense ingredient. That premise is behind the development a new brand extension from Chia\Vie called Chia Infusions, which co-founder Camille Reith describes as a lighter and more refreshing line of beverages as compared to the company’s flagship smoothies.
While still a few weeks from commercial production, Chia Infusions will make their debut at this week’s 2015 Natural Products Expo West. Like the primary line of Chia\Vie beverages, the new drinks are formulated with water, fruit juice concentrate and ground chia seeds. However, Chia Infusions, which are marketed as “Super-Seed Beverages,” are also made with stevia, the plant-based zero calorie sweetener, and less juice than the primary line, both key factors in keeping the products at 50 calories and four grams of sugar per 12 oz. bottle.
“It’s more what the masses are looking for,” Reith said of the new line.
Reith said that the beverages are designed to be thirst-quenching and something that could be consumed a lunch-time complement, in contrast to the brand’s smoothies, which contain 160-190 calories and 30-38 grams of sugar in 12 oz. bottles and are commonly consumed as meal replacement drinks.
“We have consumers that really like [Chia\Vie], but a lot of people have told us that, even though it’s just chia and fruit, the calorie count is really high,” said Danny Stepper, co-founder of CPG incubator L.A. Libations, which holds an equity stake in the brand.
Initially available in three varieties — Mint Pear, Grapefruit Ginger and Cranberry Lime — Chia Infusions will have a suggested retail price of $2.49 and launch in the Los Angeles market at “a national retailer,” Stepper said.
While he declined to name the retail chain, he noted that in talks with Kroger, which has leaned on L.A. Libations as an advisor for new and emerging beverage categories, and other large grocers, executives have increasingly pushed for the creation of mainstream-focused chia drink with a taste profile and mouth-feel that can appeal to a broad range of consumers.
That task is easier said than done considering chia’s notorious reputation as a difficult ingredient to use in beverages. Blended with water and other liquids, chia seeds create a gel-like texture in drinks that is often unfamiliar to consumers. And while the company has long held the position that ground chia allows the body to better absorb the seed’s nutrients, which include Omega-3, calcium, fiber and protein, than whole chia, both versions of ingredient offer the same challenges in formulation and production. It was a critical hurdle to overcome, with Stepper noting that despite Kroger and Safeway’s desire to add more chia beverages on their shelves, they didn’t want something that “tastes like Jell-O.”
“Make it a really approachable mouth-feel, make it lighter, more refreshing” Stepper said of the grocers’ requests. “It’s hard to do with chia, but we think we pulled it off here.”