Distribution player L.A. Libations announced an investment in chia smoothie company Chia\Vie today at National Products Expo West.
Chia\Vie, a smaller chia brand than category leader Mamma Chia, relies on ground chia seeds as the base of its chia and fruit blends products; it is largely considered to be the second brand to try to take advantage of rising consumer interest in chia seeds as a beverage ingredient.
Despite the rising profile of chia beverages, there are a limited number of products on the market; according to L.A. Libations cofounder the category is one that is about to ramp up in terms of consumer demand. The incubation firm recently began to advise supermarket giant Kroger as the “table captain” for emerging beverages and sees chia as one of the beverage types that will be a key ingredient in the mix.
“We can’t be the emerging beverage category captain without having the next coconut water, chia, in our portfolio,” said L.A. Libations co-founder Danny Stepper. “We love the brand, the management team, we love the fact that it’s shelf-stable and that it’s a ground chia product because it’s a more embraceable mouth-feel.”
The issue of ground chia seeds and whole chia seeds as a base for products employing the ingredient is one that has become something of a controversial point among chia advocates. While it remains to be seen which version will capture the attention of hard-core chia consumers, the major issue right now for both companies appears to be simply spreading the gospel of the ingredient to a wider audience.
“We’re going to be a bit conservative about how we take it out to the public,” said Dino Sarti, another L.A. Libations co-founder. “We’re definitely going into supermarkets in a strategic, deliberate way.”
The Chia\Vie team, husband and wife Mark and Camille Reith, have been testing the brand out in Southern California natural food stores up until now, and the brand’s imprint remains tiny. But they expect a rising tide of the seeds to raise their profile as an early entrant into the category.
“Working from an education standpoint, it’s a lot easier this year than last year,” Camille Reith said of the product and interactions with potential retailers at Expo West. “We don’t have to explain it to everyone. That’s helped.”
Despite slow-moving consumer interest, however, awareness of the products is high – there were many new products incorporating chia as a primary or secondary ingredient at the Expo. According to Stepper, that’s a sign of things to come.
“As with coconut water, for a while industry buzz overran the available supply of products,” Stepper said. “Then it just hockey-sticked,” he said, referring to a massive upturn in consumer interest. “We think that’s about to happen for chia.”