Chia Sisters is a health food and beverage company based in Nelson, New Zealand, that is committed to making decisions with sustainability at the forefront. Chia Sisters uses their business model to innovate and experiment with practices that align with their key values of nutrition, innovation, and sustainability. As a result, they have become New Zealand’s first solar-powered juicery, achieved a Zero Carbon and Climate Positive status, and encouraged other businesses to join the Zero Carbon journey, whilst providing their customers with nutritious and responsibly packaged products and their workers a living wage.
University of Otago
Chia Sisters was founded in 2012 by the sister duo, Chloe and Florence Van Dyke, in Nelson, New Zealand. Chloe’s background in neuroscience combined with her passion for health, motivated her to create nutritious beverage options. She started making their Chia drink from hydrated chia seeds and blackcurrant juice and began selling it to local cafes and supermarkets. Chia Sisters has grown to offer a wider range of health beverages and foods, employ nine staff at their factory, and export to overseas markets, such as Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Chloe and Florence take an innovative approach, using their business model as a platform to experiment on what constitutes a ‘good’ business. From their perspective, “a good business is one that chooses well in every decision it makes.” They realised the significant role that businesses play in contributing to climate change and felt it was time for companies to start acting more responsibly. From the outset, Chloe and Florence prioritised incorporating their personal values into the business to see what they could achieve. Their values of nutrition, innovation and sustainability guide all business decisions and motivate them to integrate sustainable practices across their operations. Although they are only one small player, they aim to lead by example in this space and encourage other firms to adopt similar approaches.
This unique outlook has led Chia Sisters to establish a number of practices within their business that align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. One key innovation is becoming New Zealand’s first solar-powered juicery. Nelson receives the most sunshine hours per year in New Zealand, making it the perfect place for solar panels. In 2018, Chia Sisters installed thirty-two solar panels on their factory, which are able to harness up to 16,000 watts of energy each hour. This energy is used to produce their range of juices, appropriately named Bottled by the Sun. Chia Sisters has also started a group called Businesses for Climate Action, which brings together local businesses and industries in order to solve climate related issues. Chia Sisters runs workshops alongside this group to encourage other firms to measure their carbon footprint and make progress toward reducing emissions.
The original inspiration for Chia Sisters stemmed from Chloe’s drive to produce a healthy drink to fuel her athletic family. Her father, Ben Van Dyke, was a world champion swimmer for his age group, and her sister Florence, was competing for New Zealand in triathlon. At the time, they struggled to find something healthy to sustain them during their training. There were limited products available that were low in artificial ingredients, sugar, and caffeine. As a result, Chloe created their first range of drinks, using chia seeds as a rich source of essential nutrients.
As Chia Sisters gained popularity and became established as a business, they realised their purpose of applying their personal values to the way they operate. They felt as if there is often a “real disconnect between people’s values at a personal level and at a work level, and this extends to how you treat the environment and how you look after people.” This built the basis of the organisation’s three core values of nutrition, innovation, and sustainability and their commitment to addressing climate change.
Chia Sister’s business model has allowed them to generate multiple innovations across their organisation, impacting the products they sell and practices they implement. Overall, Chia Sisters is a Zero Carbon company. They went through the process to achieve accreditation, involving measuring their carbon footprint, reducing emissions, and offsetting. Chia Sisters also has a solar-powered juicery that enabled the release of their Bottled by the Sun range, which won the Best Drink in New Zealand Award in 2019. The factory uses 8000 watts per hour at full capacity, allowing Chia Sisters to sell the excess energy they produce back to the grid for other people to use. In the short term, the savings on their power bill do not outweigh the costs of using solar panels. However, the sales of the Bottled by the Sun juice range have been over five times the dollar value of the cost of the panels, justifying their installation in the long term.
The Businesses for Climate Action group has encouraged over 100 businesses from different industries, such as tourism and retail, to start the Zero Carbon journey. The group is used to share knowledge and resources, enabling these firms to work together to identify problem areas regarding carbon emissions and climate change. Chia Sisters aims to use the group to highlight key issues and collaborate to find existing or new solutions that can then be replicated and rolled out in the Nelson region, and then throughout New Zealand or potentially globally in the future. Chia Sisters believe that “the only way we can combat climate change and make an impact is if everyone works together.” For example, the group is currently being used to trial more sustainable alternatives to the plastic wrap used to transport pallets of product. They hope they can find a viable solution and share it within the business community, attracting enough interested parties to create buying power to reduce the cost of choosing a more sustainable option.
“If every business prioritised having a positive impact on the environment and community in which it operates, we believe it would change the world” - Chloe Van Dyke.
Chia Sister’s commitment to their core values has helped establish them as a successful brand in the health food and beverage industry. The Bottled by the Sun juice range was a huge success, demonstrating how consumers are interested in sustainability. Chia Sisters believe that having values in a business is becoming increasingly important. Their values are what helps them differentiate themselves in the market, attracting the “customers that choose our product over others.” Their efforts have been recognised by a number of awards over the years, such as the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia Pacific List in 2019. SheEO is a New Zealand organisation that raises funding to assist female-run businesses. In 2019, Chia Sisters were one of the five firms awarded a share of up to $500,000 of an interest-free loan. This funding will help Chia Sisters achieve their goals of international expansion (Devereux, 2019).
The team at Chia Sisters is their most important asset and sustainability extends to the way they treat their team. One way Chia Sisters values their staff is by paying every employee above the Living Wage. This is the amount of income needed to provide workers and their families with basic necessities and the ability to participate as active citizens in society (Living Wage NZ, 2020). For Chia Sisters, being Living Wage accredited makes “perfect economic sense.” It ensures their employees are respected and treated fairly, without worry of financial stress at home. In turn, staff are dedicated, passionate and turnover is reduced. Chia Sisters are also able to hire the best people as a result of their reputation for creating a positive team environment. Furthermore, the majority of their employee’s income is spent in the local area, helping the community to thrive.
Chia Sisters went through the process of becoming Zero Carbon and Climate Positive accredited, with help from Ekos, a local non-profit that measures carbon emissions. Chia Sisters reduced their emissions through waste reduction, the use of solar power, changing to electric vehicles, and from air to sea freight. They then offset the remaining 22.55 tonnes of carbon by contributing to native and sustainable planting in the Rameka Forest, a Certified Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme Carbon Sink. This carbon sink is local, and the community is able to walk through and enjoy the forests that suck the carbon out of the atmosphere. They offset by 120 percent, meaning the overall activities of Chia Sisters are reducing carbon. Lastly, Chia Sisters built their carbon emissions into their decision making. Going forward, they ensure every decision includes the cost to the environment. Through the group Businesses for Climate Action, Chia Sisters also encourage other firms to follow these steps and take action to address climate change. According to Chloe, “most important for the climate action story is taking it beyond your own business.”
Chia Sisters also take society and the environment into consideration through their choice of ingredients and packaging. Sugary soft drinks have been identified as key contributors to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay (World Health Organisation, 2016). The beverage industry is also a huge contributor to the disposal of single-use plastics across the globe. All Chia Sisters products are high in nutrition, free from refined sugar, and made from quality local ingredients. The Bottled by the Sun boysenberry and apple juice is made entirely from ingredients sourced within twenty kilometres of the factory. All the beverages are packaged in glass, saving over four million plastic bottles going to landfill. Chia Sisters are also looking into a new innovation and aim to sell over fifty percent of their sales from kegs and refillable vessels by 2022. This is a work in progress, however, the first kegs of juice and sparkling coconut water were sold in 2019. At Chia Sisters, “by putting sustainability at the core of our business, we are successfully having a positive impact on both the environment and the community in which we operate.”
Chloe Van Dyke, Founder
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Business Website: https://www.chia.co.nz
Year Founded: 2012
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Chia Sisters is a food and beverage company based in Nelson, New Zealand. They primarily sell health beverages, with their range including their original Chia drink, pressed juices, sparkling coconut water, hemp smoothies, and muesli. Chia Sisters was founded in 2012 by the sister duo, Chloe and Florence Van Dyke, and has now grown to employ a team of nine staff and export to overseas markets, such as Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Chia Sisters is committed to making decisions with sustainability at the forefront and this is demonstrated through their business practices.