From Seed to Bloom: 5 Questions on Chia\Vie

In most cases, successful beverage brands tend to follow the old adage “crawl, walk, run” as – for sure – knowing how to first stand up goes a long way in preventing unnecessary scrapes, stumbles and outright flops. One brand following this gradual approach is Chia\Vie, a line of ground chia and fruit smoothies. A year removed from its debut at Expo West 2011, Chia\Vie has gingerly found its balance, and is most certainly on its feet, albeit in no hurry to start sprinting.

Chia\Vie was developed by Mark and Camille Reith who launched the brand under the umbrella of Bare Nutrition, the couple’s “better-for-you” CPG company. The Reiths saw a growing awareness and consumption of chia – an ingredient known for its high levels of Omega-3, protein, and calcium – as an opportunity to create a commercial and marketable chia-based drink. And though Mamma Chia was first to market with its whole chia seed beverage and is already nationally distributed through UNFI, Chia\Vie is attempting to make its mark via a deep regional footprint along the West Coast.

The beverage launched at a number of Whole Foods locations in Northern California last summer and, having shown some traction in the stores, gained distribution in the chain’s Southern Pacific region later in the year. Since that time, the self-funded company has taken a deliberate approach to growth and focused on development of the brand in the Western U.S., largely spurred through its relationship with Green Shoots Distribution.

The Reiths connected with Green Shoots, a natural products DSD distributor, at last year’s Expo West show and helped Chia\Vie gain distribution in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Texas.  Green Shoots also enabled the brand to enter a number of natural foods retailers; including Central Market, New Leaf, Andronicos, and Sunflower. The Reiths are now looking for saturation of the brand in its Western markets followed by new distribution into the Pacific Northwest.

Chia\Vie comes in three flavors with fruit-centric names – Banappleberry, Mango-J, and Pina Acerola – and is currently packaged in a 10 oz. aluminum bottle with an average retail price of $3.49-3.99. While the use of an aluminum package was an important aspect of Chia\Vie’s branding, the Reiths recently, and reluctantly, made the decision to move the line into glass bottles. The new packaging will roll out in next 2-3 months.

BevNET recently spoke with Mark and Camille Reith to discuss the growth of Chia\Vie and the chia category. We’ve condensed the interview into an edited question and answer format:

Who are Chia\Vie’s target consumers?

Camille: Chia is such a balanced product. It’s open to a huge demographic. The challenge is, ‘How do we segment it?’ Currently, our typical consumers are women aged 30-60, and are the ones making household purchasing decisions. They are busy moms and career moms. However, we’re also seeing repeats purchases among younger and middle aged men.

How will Chia\Vie, and the category as a whole, grow in the coming year?

Mark: Our number one method to retail penetration has been in-store demos. We’ve personally been to every Whole Foods store in California, Arizona, and Nevada.  But it takes a conscious consumer to choose a chia beverage in the first place, and we’re focusing on those key consumers as opposed others who see it as a trendy drink.

Camille: Also, our product is shelf-stable, but most people agree that it needs to be served cold. And although the cooler is a very competitive place to be, we want to see the category grow and we believe it will grow in the cooler.

We’ve also put zero effort in social media and PR. That will change. We’re currently working on narrowing down on a PR company to help narrow focus of marketing and identify the most influential market.

Why use ground chia as opposed to whole seeds? Is there a difference in efficacy and bioavailability?

Mark: In trials, we found that more people preferred ground chia seeds as opposed to the whole seed. People want to like chia, but the barrier [for whole seeds] is the gelatin-like texture that develops when the seeds are mixed with water. We don’t want texture to be the barrier. For us, it’s taking a different approach, and it’s a great opportunity considering that there already is a product [Mamma Chia] with whole seeds.

Camille: There are no studies that compare the bioavailability or efficacy of ground chia versus whole seed. On our wish list, however, is the ability to eventually fund a scientific study that compares the two.

Aluminum cans were a big part of Chia\Vie’s branding. Why the move to glass packaging?

Mark: Simply put, the aluminum can dents too much; [clearly], dents aren’t representative of a premium beverage. The look and feel of the new package will be the same, and the bottle will have a full sleeve with the same graphics and branding. Most people won’t know the difference.

How do you explain the relatively high price of Chia\Vie to consumers?

Mark: The cost of chia and fruit adds up. But price hasn’t become a big issue yet, because our consumers are loyal and using product for its functionality. We look at it as an alternative and a complement to homemade smoothies. For new consumers, it takes a little push for people to realize that they are spending the same amount of money on a serving of coffee, beer, or wine. Education will take time.