Chia-based food and beverage company helps to drive market through quality and community
If you ask Janie Hoffman how chia has impacted her life, you’ll notice her face light up with excitement as she shares what those little seeds have done for her health and well-being and why she wanted to share that same passion with a broader community.
Hoffman notes that when she first fell in love with chia, there were no chia seed beverages on the market and it also was challenging to locate chia seeds at retailers — especially organic chia. Although she does not have a food and beverage background, Hoffman’s dedication to share the benefits of chia with the masses led not only to the birth of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mamma Chia but also to the broader chia beverage category.
“I created Mamma Chia truly because of my desire to spread the love and magic of chia, [but] I have to say, not coming from a food and beverage background, there were a lot of folks that thought this was quite bold,” the founder and chief executive officer explains. “It’s very gratifying for me that we were able to not only create the first-to-market chia beverage but also to create a whole new category. I would like to think that we set the bar really high.”
Originally launched in October 2010 within select retailers in Southern California, Mamma Chia’s Vitality Beverages are U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic, Non GMO Verified and certified kosher. “Our products adhere to really rigorous standards,” Hoffman says. “We only use certified organic chia that is 99.9 percent clean, and it has to be a very, very high quality of chia. Honestly, if it’s not a very high quality of organic chia, it doesn’t perform well in our beverages.”
Approximately four years later, Mamma Chia now is national and has added new varieties to its Vitality Beverage line, launched Chia Squeeze snacks, released bagged chia seeds, debuted a Clean Energy line of beverages and announced the development of its chia bars. Through all of these product extensions, Hoffman adds that it is important that Mamma Chia maintain its commitment to quality and the community that supports them in order to continue to be a leader in the chia food and beverage market.
“We are providing delicious, nutrient-dense, chia-based products,” she says. “I think our leadership comes not only from being first but from our commitment to quality as well as our commitment to our community. We have a very big giveback program that you don’t see very often, especially from a young brand. We give 1 percent of our gross sales to environmental organizations and local food systems. And as everyone knows, 1 percent of gross sales is a significant amount of money, and to commit to that from day one and be held accountable to that is something that I think demonstrates that we mean it. We’re committed to our mission to be conscious leaders in sustainability and social causes.”
Although Mamma Chia has brought organic chia seeds to the masses, Hoffman’s particular interest in chia came from first-hand experience. “Chia changed my life,” she explains. “After struggling for almost 20 years from a variety of debilitating autoimmune disorders, and after years of trying numerous diets and medical treatments, it was only when I was introduced to chia and switched to an organic diet that I finally went into remission. After seeing what this amazing little seed did for me in my life, it became my mission to share its magic with the world.”
That mission and the seed’s entry into the beverage industry started with Mamma Chia Vitality Beverages. “Intuitively, I thought that our very first product had to be our beverages,” Hoffman says. “I wanted them in these beautiful glass bottles so you could see the chia seeds suspended in our gem-colored organic fruit juices. I thought they would be magnetic on the shelf. I also thought, because there was nothing else like it on the market, it would be very disruptive and get a lot of attention and would prove to be an incredible showcase for the chia seed.”
Available in nine SKUs, Mamma Chia Blackberry Hibiscus, Cherry Lime, Coconut Mango and Raspberry Passion flavors are the biggest crowd pleasers, Hoffman notes. The company retooled the lineup within the past year by replacing two varieties with Strawberry Lemonade and Pineapple Coconut.
“Strawberry Lemonade has a wonderful, familiar, traditional taste, while our new Pineapple Coconut flavor has a tropical, exotic flavor,” she explains. “Both were unlike any of our existing flavors yet complemented them perfectly. Both of the new Mamma Chia flavors are doing very well. We still have some work to do to get the word out as well as gain additional distribution, but that seems to always be the name of the game with new products.”
Although the Vitality Beverages have seen their fair share of success in the market, Hoffman has not forgotten the journey it took her to get them there.
“Little did I know in the beginning that my kitchen recipes would be so challenging to produce on a large scale,” she says. “In fact, we had one disastrous test run after another. I was even told that it couldn’t be done. But I am a tenacious soul, and I was determined to make it happen.
“Learning how to work with the chia seeds to ensure they were evenly dispersed throughout the beverage took a lot of trial and error, but it was the key to a consistent product that was as beautiful as it was delicious,” she continues. “Thankfully, we stuck with it, and now we have not one but two beautiful beverage lines and a patent-pending process to boot.”
Those test runs and lessons have proven valuable to Mamma Chia as it expands not only its beverage offerings but food products. “Now that we’ve grown, we have the ‘luxury’ of creating new product lines and extensions,” Hoffman explains. “Sometimes it can be challenging because you want to get a product to market quickly — especially when there’s a strong retail and consumer demand — but we keep going back to our early days and remembering that we have to believe a product is 100 percent ready before we’ll put it out on the market.
“Sometimes that means going back to the drawing board,” she continues. “With several successful line extensions now under our belt, that early key learning is one that’s continued to serve us well all these years.”
That tenacity to have 100 percent confidence in its new products was a key component to the development of the brand’s latest beverage line: Mamma Chia Clean Energy. The USDA Certified Organic Clean Energy line is available in four flavors — Blackberry Blast, Raspberry Razz, Grape Power and Cherry Charge — and derives its energy source from Fair Trade guayusa, a naturally caffeinated plant from the holly tree genus. Like the Vitality Beverages, the new products also contain 2,500 mg of omega-3s from the organic chia seeds.
“So many consumers turn to massive coffees and chemical-laden energy beverages to give them a lift,” Hoffman notes. “We saw a void in the marketplace for a truly healthful energy drink, which is what we’ve developed. It offers all the nutritional benefits of our Vitality Beverages, plus the natural energy source of guayusa.”
Hoffman first learned about guayusa before she launched Mamma Chia and was impressed with the synergies it had to chia. “Similar to chia, guayusa has an ancient pedigree, having been part of the Amazonian culture for more than 2,000 years,” she says. “We chose it because it delivers balanced, sustained energy without the jitters and crashes typically associated with other sources of caffeine.”
Guayusa also offers a mellowness that isn’t bitter or overpowering, Hoffman explains. But most importantly, guayusa aligns with Mamma Chia’s values to offer organic products. “We said, ‘If we’re doing [an energy line], it needs to be organic and Fair Trade,’” she says. “Guayusa was Fair Trade and organic and sustainably sourced, so that’s why it was chosen. We knew we were going to do an energy line, but we didn’t know exactly when we were going to make that happen, so everything just came together — all the stars aligned with this one.”
Hoffman notes that the drinks are designed for anyone looking to add a nutritious boost to their day, including athletes such as runners, cyclists, yogis or any other athletic activity. “Mamma Chia Clean Energy drinks are a super healthy way to start the day as well as the perfect afternoon pick-me-up,” she adds.
Like the Vitality Beverages, Clean Energy’s four SKUs are merchandised in the cold case at retailers. Although the company is pleased that the four initial flavors complement its core line and work well with the combination of chia and guayusa, it will consider expanding the lineup when the timing is right. However, the company does not have a specific timeline for that, Hoffman notes.
Meeting the customer’s needs
As Mamma Chia continues to grow its business and portfolio, the company also is tasked with ensuring that it remains connected to the wants and needs of the variety of distributors and retailers that it serves.
“At Mamma Chia, we believe in providing a distribution solution that best meets the needs of our customers,” Hoffman says.
Because different customers have their own preferences of distribution — direct, direct-store delivery (DSD) or distributor — Mamma Chia works with a variety of models. “We have relationships with the majority of wholesale distributors that service the natural, specialty and conventional channels, which enables us to service the vast majority of retailers,” Hoffman explains. “We also have been building relationships with numerous DSD distributors to help service those accounts that prefer the full-service aspect of DSD, as well as help service our [up and down the street] (UDS) and independent account bases.
“Additionally, we have many accounts that prefer the option of going direct, which we support as well,” she continues.
Whether it’s retailers or distri-butors, Mamma Chia’s goal is to support all of its partners to help drive sales performance through a number of different avenues, Hoffman notes.
“This [support] can come in the form of promotions, in-store merchandising support, demos, social media callouts and point-of-sale and merchandising shippers as well as the marketing and PR that Mamma Chia does in the regions to build trial and awareness to drive consumers back to our customers’ stores,” she says. “We also support our distributors with annual promotional calendars to allow them to offer specials to their customers, support their trade events and partner with their sales forces to help solicit new business for Mamma Chia. Building delightful and successful relationships is one of our core values at Mamma Chia.”
Although Mamma Chia is available nationally at a variety of chains, including Whole Foods Market, Safeway, Target, Kroger, HEB, Wegmans and Sprouts, the chia-based company has a global vision in mind for its future.
“At Mamma Chia, our vision is to be a beloved global brand and make our products available within arm’s reach of our customers,” Hoffman says. “We are focused on expanding distribution to the retailers and classes of trade that reach our targeted consumers as well as help us introduce our products to new users. We are experiencing great success as we expand into new targeted areas and classes of trade, and we are enjoying great acceptance from new users of the brand.”
Mamma Chia has experienced notable success in its four-year history, and it also has made sure that a charitable nature is part of its core values from day one.
“There are a lot of traditional business folks that would never have a philanthropic giveback program until there was profitability, but we believe that giving back is what we should all be doing throughout the entire process, and it may be one of the reasons why we are a profitable company today,” Hoffman says.
Among those give-back initiatives is Mamma Chia’s membership with Certified B Corporation (B Corps), a global movement campaign to redefine success in business by meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability and performance.
The company also is a member of 1% for the Planet (1% FTP), which is a global movement of companies that donate at least 1 percent of annual sales to environmental organizations. “As a conscious and sustainable company that is committed ‘to honor and uplift both the soul of humanity and the soul of the planet,’ 1% FTP is a clean way to ensure that a company is truly giving back and practicing what they preach,” Hoffman explains.
Much like how Hoffman and Mamma Chia have taken a leadership role in the chia-based food and beverage market, the company is doing the same with its philanthropic initiatives as a founding member of the Slow Money Alliance. “Slow Money is a nonprofit organization and movement that supports and guides investments into small and local food systems and enterprises,” Hoffman says. “Its mission is to bring money back down to earth and encourage new ways of thinking about the relationship between food, money and our planet. Mamma Chia donates 1 percent of our gross sales to support healthy, local food systems.”
Hoffman says that she would love to see a shift in the old paradigm from that of accumulating wealth before being charitable to one that embraces giving back along the way. “I think it’s so important that Mamma Chia maintain our leadership within the chia category, not only to see the bar raised for more organic and conscious companies [but also for] more conscious capitalism and more of this paradigm shift in philanthropy,” she says. “I feel like this is the moment in time when we all need to roll up our sleeves and make a difference in the world, and it can’t just be during our off hours.
“It has to be what we’re doing in our everyday lives, so we need conscious souls and conscious companies at our local level as well as those medium-size companies, large companies and even our multi-national companies,” she continues. “[We need to] have conscious souls and conscious brands contributing to the greater good.”
With two chia-based beverage lines in its portfolio — Vitality and Clean Energy — Mamma Chia, Carlsbad, Calif., has created and led the chia beverage market. However, Janie Hoffman, founder and chief executive officer of Mamma Chia, knew that there was much more she could share about chia beyond beverages.
As a follow-up to its Vitality Beverages, Mamma Chia launched its Chia Squeeze snacks, which each contain 1,200 mg of omega-3s and are packaged in flexible pouches. The company also offers organic black and white chia seeds for at-home food and beverage preparation and announced at this year’s Natural Products Expo East that it is finalizing development of its Mamma Chia Vitality Bars.
But Hoffman isn’t just enlightening consumers about chia seeds through consumer packaged goods, she also has published two books this year on the topic of chia. Her first book, “Chia Vitality,” is a lifestyle book, and on Sept. 30 she released “The Chia Cookbook.”
“It is my mission to share the ‘magic of chia’ with the world, and the books have given me another platform from which to do that,” Hoffman says. “It’s been an amazing journey. I’m constantly approached by beautiful souls who want to share their personal stories with me. It’s truly inspiring. Part of the Mamma Chia mission is to spread the love of chia, and these two books are instrumental in educating people on chia as well as furthering Mamma Chia’s leadership in the world of chia.”