Chia Bia, a health food company based in Tramore, Co Waterford, has become an industry leader in the supply of seed products to the Irish, European, and international markets.
The business was founded in 2009, after owner Barrie Rogers suffered a back injury while on holiday in America. It was then when he discovered the power of chia seeds after they were recommended to him for their anti-inflammatory properties.
Chia seeds are native to South America and their optimal growing conditions are in regions close to the equator. They are small, subtle-tasting black or white seeds high in Omega 3 and fibre, a source of protein, and can be added to foods and drinks to boost nutrition.
On his return to Ireland, Barrie researched the best way to bring them to Europe. He quickly learned about the tariffs and customs associated with importing a product into the EU.
Chia Bia worked with Revenue to ensure the correct classification, and developed a relationship with a clearing agent for all future purchases.
Once the company got clearance to import the seed, they faced an additional obstacle in the form of the European Union’s ‘Novel Food’ regulation.
‘Novel Food’ is any newly developed innovative food — food produced using new technologies and production processes — as well as food which is or has been traditionally eaten outside of the EU prior to May 1997.
Barrie and his team applied for approval through the equivalence process from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and got the go-ahead to sell the seed when the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) completed and issued a safety assessment.
Chia Bia, which initially went on the shelves in 120 health stores, later secured its first multiple retail listing in SuperValu, had its first international listing with Holland & Barrett in the UK and is now one of Europe’s largest suppliers of chia seeds.
It participated in Bord Bia’s Marketplace B2B buyer event, which resulted in sales of the brand to retailers in the Middle East. The company is currently working with existing customers and on building its online sales channels.
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Health food products were new when Chia Bia launched in the retail market in 2013. It supported the trade and educated consumers on the benefits of health foods to grow the market, and is now category leader.
The product range can be found nationwide in SuperValu, Dunnes Stores, Tesco, Centra, Holland & Barrett, and independent retailers.
It is also available in over 2,000 outlets worldwide with new product launches, increased exports sales, and new markets in the EU planned for 2019.
Chia Bia now has two British Retail Consortium (BRC) accredited packaging and storage facilities, totalling over 15,000 square feet, with semi-automated filling, packaging, and milling machinery.
Barrie Rogers, whose first job was as a lifeguard in Tramore Leisure Centre, said the firm’s success is testament to the hard work of employees. Each member plays a crucial role in the running of the business.
“The Chia seed is now on many household shopping lists as it is very versatile and can easily be added to foods and drinks to boost nutrition. Ten years ago, this wasn’t the case.
“As pioneers of the chia seed, we have received tremendous support from Irish consumers and membership of Love Irish Food has helped reach a wider audience, influence brand choice, drive sales, and encourage consumers to choose Irish.
“We are committed to the quality of our chia seeds and we have a direct relationship with the growers in South America. My most recent trip was in October to Paraguay,” he said.
Mr Rogers said the company, the first to bring chia seed to Europe, had steady growth over the last few years, with unit sales up 12.5% in 2018. It also opened a café bia+brew on its Tramore premises last October.
“With customer experience and quality ingredients being a major focus for this new venture, our coffee, breakfast and lunch offerings are an ultimate showcase of local Waterford food producers,” he said.
Mr Rogers said the company ethos is to support the local community as best it can. It gives him great satisfaction to be able to do that through his business.
“I aim to be open and transparent with my team. I empower them to make decisions, I acknowledge hard work and most of all encourage them to enjoy what they do,” he said.
“I feel you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial, so if an employee has a creative flair, I nurture it.”
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Mr Rogers said the company’s vision is to consistently deliver high-quality products that offer consumers a healthier choice.
“We only work with chia suppliers who have a direct relationship with their growers. Further to this, we nutritionally analyse each batch of seeds to ensure they meet our strict nutritional criteria,” he said.
Chia Bia, a member of the Bord Bia initiative Origin Green, implements many initiatives to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and be more sustainable.
These include environmental improvements to lower electricity usage, responsible sourcing of raw material and packaging, involvement in local communities and charities, and introducing lean principles to increase efficiencies and productivity in the plant.
So where did the name Chia Bia come from? Chia is the Aztec word for strength and Bia means food in Irish. So ‘Chia Bia’ literally means ‘Strength Food’.