This local David is hurling chia seeds at food industry Goliaths…and winning.
Would you second guess an Aztec warrior’s choice of snack when you’re staring down the sharp end of his spear?
Didn’t think so.
That Aztec warrior’s aggro was fueled by an agro-superfood, a food that’s having a renaissance after 500 years of virtual obscurity, in part because of a local company.
“It’s the highest plant-based form of Omega 3s, protein, and fiber and no one knows about it,” said Shane Emmett, co-founder and CEO of Health Warrior, a nationwide seller of chia seeds and bars.
Chia, an edible seed primarily grown in Southern Mexico, was once a staple in Aztec culture. But Spanish domination of present day Mexico in the 1500s caused a decline in chia use. It went largely disregarded in Western Culture until the 1990s.
Emmett said that he and his friends, eventual Health Warrior co-founders Dan Gluck and Nick Morris, started ordering chia seeds after reading about them in Born to Run. The three “realized that the rest of the world should probably know about this food.”
Emmett, an attorney that was then working for Governor Tim Kaine–along with hedge fund managers Gluck and Morris–had no food industry experience, so they solicited advice and knowledge and began hunting “for a really good source of chia seeds.” The three ordered certificates of analysis1 for chia seeds from various suppliers until finding one that met their standards.
Health Warrior launched three years ago selling bags of chia seeds. “We were just an e-commerce company in about 25 grocery stores,” Emmett said. Its offices located in Scott’s Addition, the company’s first retail account was with Ellwood Thompson’s.
“Then we invented a chia bar,” Emmett said. “Unlike most [other] bars, which have sugar as the main ingredient, our bars use a superfood as the main ingredient.” Coming in a variety of flavors, each bar contains 1000mg of Omega 3 plus fiber, protein, and antioxidants. All bars are naturally vegan and gluten-free.
Health Warrior couldn’t have picked a more perfect time to launch. With the recent growth in trends like the real food movement, low sugar foods, non-GMO ingredients, etc. the company offered products that appealed to an increasingly large number of food-conscious people.
“People really took to the seeds and the bars,” Emmett said. “Our sales were growing very quickly online and on Amazon. Stores like Ellwood Thompson’s were doing quite well.”
In late 2012, Whole Foods started carrying Health Warrior products. “Whole Foods doesn’t usually launch companies nationally,” Emmett said. “But chia, by this point, was a very quickly growing category in the food world,2 so our chia bars were very much on trend.” He said that the company’s products are now sold in thousands of stores across the country.
“We are selling millions of chia bars per year, and the company has grown more than 1,200 percent in 24 months,” Emmett said. That’s an astonishing feat on its own, but more so when you consider how difficult it is for start-ups to thrive in the food industry. “It’s a very challenging industry, especially to break through when most of the products in the food world are sold by very large companies.”
But Health Warrior doesn’t plan on being the David to the Goliaths of the food industry forever. The company is developing future products to help it grow into its larger aspirations. “We want Health Warrior to be a very large food company that sells genuinely healthy, nutrient-dense products based on the strongest foundational ingredients–like chia seeds,” Emmett said. “We want to be big enough to have a voice in the food industry and with food policy.”