- An ancient seed used by the Mayans and Aztecs inspires an entrepreneur to develop a new range of beverages and snacks.
- Janie Hoffman created a demand for her products before customers even knew what chia seeds were, and before she even had a guaranteed supply.
- The company tagline “Seed Your Soul” wants to demonstrate that money is not the sole aim of a company. Don’t wait until you’re profitable before giving back.
- Organic food is now mainstream and found in major supermarket chains at affordable prices.
“I’ve got to tell you, the body doesn’t lie,” says Janie Hoffman. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs of Mexico knew this basic fact, and so now does this fast-talking Californian CEO, the Mamma Chia, was formed after she cured herself from a 20-year long battle with an auto-immune disorder that left her with severe muscle weakness and unable to perform basic tasks, such as climbing stairs.
Her love affair with chia seeds started in 2009 on a small farm in rural San Diego, where Hoffman and her husband Lance, started seeing the vitality boost and curing powers of a little seed that had, until then, sat mostly unnoticed on shelves at health shops. Most people wouldn’t even know what to do with chia seeds; it’s not a common ingredient in mainstream recipe books and sounds like one of those passing health fads that overly enthusiastic friends will try and sell you on. As living proof of what the seeds could do, Hoffman began experimenting with recipes. Spurred on by friends and neighbors, who reported huge bursts of vitality, Hoffman developed a range of foods and what became a best-selling chia drink in her kitchen. Now packaged in bright, vibrant colors, Mamma Chia Vitality Beverages can be found worldwide in mainstream supermarkets and natural stores alike.
At Mamma Chia the sustained energy found in chia seeds is just one of the ‘bigger picture’ insights that Hoffman brings to her business. Chia seeds first made their debut to Western audiences in the 2011 New York Times bestseller Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. In the book, the hidden Tarahumara tribe of Mexico and their super athletic endurance races of over 100 miles were documented and chia seeds emerged as a major reason for their stamina. One tablespoon of chia was considered capable of sustaining a warrior for 24 hours. Hoffman decided that sustainable endurance was something she wanted to build into the core of her business plans too.
When she launched Mamma Chia, Hoffman was told she was crazy. Beyond her friends and family she had no idea what a larger audience might think about her products. “I knew that my mission was to bring organic chia to the world,” says Hoffman. ”When I started there were very little to no chia seeds in the world that were certified organic. Many people thought it was completely ridiculous for me to start an organic company without the supply being there, never mind a consumer to buy it.”
She felt that the organic, environmental aspect was essential, but that the social message was important too. “I strongly believe that our bodies and mother earth are far better off without the toxic synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and sewage irrigation that are so common in conventional farming,” she says.
“It was a risk, and you stay hopeful, but I had a vision,” says Hoffman. “We wanted to be the leaders of the chia renaissance while creating a sustainable and conscious organization.” From day one Mamma Chia became a Certified B Corporation and is also a member of 1% for the Planet, an organization that believes business is responsible for positive change on the planet, with members donating one percent of sales to vetted, non-profit partners. “In the food and beverage industry, a donation like that is a big deal,” says Hoffman. “Many companies wait until there’s profit before they start giving back – that’s an old paradigm. Accumulating wealth first and then giving back is so outmoded.” Mamma Chia is also a founding member of Slow Money, an organization that has catalyzed more than $40 million in capital towards local food enterprises and organic farms. By seeking out like-minded people and organizations, and aligning herself with them, Hoffman has expanded her support group and found potential new suppliers, markets and customers.
Hoffman attributes her success to the fact that the company has a higher purpose. “It goes beyond making money,” she explains. “It’s reflected in our mission statement and our core values. We’re continually measuring ourselves against them.” The company tagline ‘Seed Your Soul’ hints at nourishment beyond appetite, and Hoffman’s leadership in this field has not been lost on others. Honest Tea, a subsidiary of Coca Cola, recently signed up for 1% For The Planet and Hoffman hopes that companies like Mamma Chia had a part to play in their decision. “Can large multi-nationals afford to not align themselves with social change anymore?” asks Hoffman.
“I don’t just talk about the power of good in business, I talk about the power of business for the highest good. I think that that highest good goes back to honoring both the soul of humanity and the soul of the planet – and I don’t think that’s an airy-fairy statement anymore.”
Yet, how scalable is organic? Are we destined to fight over that last bunch of limited edition, responsibly-picked Peruvian asparagus at a Whole Foods Market? Hoffman is unfazed. “When you have Wal-Mart become the largest purchaser of organic produce in the world, it proves that you can scale organic up to huge levels,” she says. “If we’re going to democratize organics, it has to include large-scale production. There are certainly folks that have proven that it can be done.”
“Continuing to hit producers over the head that use synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics is not the way we’ll change,” says Hoffman. “Taste is king and by providing truly delicious products, that also happen to be incredibly nutritious, the market will gradually move in our direction.”
Click here for more interesting facts on the health benefits of chia seeds.