Introducing: Chia Sisters Smoothies

Small Business Survival Lockdown Diary

 
New Zealand is known for it's number 8 wire approach. We are innovative and collaborative and quick to find solutions, but still, we weren't prepared.

One week before / the good life: Our solar-powered juicery in Nelson is producing more nutritious drinks than ever before. Our focus is innovations, wider distribution and measuring our carbon footprint. We hold a final interview for the ninth addition to our team. Then Covid-19 hits.

One day before lockdown / confusion
As a food manufacturer we learn we are an Essential Business. We meet with our small team.
The sense of comradeship and family has never been stronger. We rearrange the locations of our employees so that each team member can self-isolate, continue working, and not break their chosen bubbles.  Our production manager and his family put their hands up to operate the production line with protective gear. We gladly accept. We sell health drinks packed with all natural, fruits and seeds. High nutrition and low sugar. Surely healthy products will remain important during this time.

Week one of lockdown / can we survive?  Sales to cafes plummet to 0, bringing Chia Sisters’ revenue down to 20%. We are grateful for the Wage Subsidy. Sales to supermarkets decline as consumers choose basics over 'on-the-go' health food and drinks. We hold an urgent shareholders meeting to discuss the pros and cons of closing our business. If we shut our doors now we can avoid debt and bankruptcy. It is sobering, but the most realistic option. Pivoting to online sales may allow us to keep our team employed. We owe it to them to try.

Week two of Lockdown / evolve or die: the shock has settled. Now is the time to pivot. We implement free, contactless home delivery for our range of health juices and smoothies and send the message out to our supporters, friends and family. We give a hurray for every order that comes through and by the end of the day have sent a few hundred juices and smoothies to Kiwis across the country.  There is a glimmer of hope. An employee initiates a group WhatsApp thread so that we can share small victories from home. Camaraderie is at an all time high. This is worth fighting for.
 
Week three of lockdown / we are in this together: we lean on Theresa Gattung’s SheEO community of radically generous women who offer advice and support. Online platforms like Modern Forager spring up to connect consumers with food producers. This enables consumers to shop from home and support New Zealand businesses. Closing down plays heavy on our minds. We are in limbo. It is unclear if Chia Sisters sales are sustainable or a reflection of well-intentioned whānau propping us up. Even our bank manager buys a case.
 
Week four of lockdown / collaboration: we connect local food producers Pics Peanut Butter and Proper Crisps and create the Little Box of Sunshine, the essential box of goodies to fuel foodies through the lockdown and to help Nelson businesses stay afloat. Initiatives like this will boost the local economy while easing up pressure on supermarket deliveries. 
 
We launch a Chia Sisters Local Market online. We feel good about being able to support local producers and connecting with local businesses is encouraging. On the same day Bauer Media closes and Air New Zealand announces it is running at 5%. Two pillars of New Zealand society prove they are not immune to this crisis.

Week five of Lockdown / cafe support : As our online home deliveries continue to grow we think more about other businesses we are connected to. We sell our juices to over 1000 independent cafes and bars across the country that closed their doors on Wednesday. We are eager to help as many survive as possible and extend all of our payment terms.

We brainstorm what else we can do to help. We want our cafe customers to know that we are in this together, they supported us and we will support them. We set up an initiative were 20% of sales go to the customers choose cafe.

Week six of Lockdown / innovationWe have moved into Level 3. We are winning the war against Covid-19 and are proud of the efforts of New Zealanders. We might be one of the only countries in the world that will eradicate this virus. There is light at the end of the tunnel from a health perspective but it is clear that our economy is in this for the long haul. 

We start thinking about how consumer behaviour will change coming out of lockdown. What do we want businesses to be like? How can we bring our skill set of health and innovation to these new channels? Are we limited to beverages? Are we limited to food? What are our skillsets and what do Kiwis need in the months and years to come? 

Week seven of Lockdown / Level 2 opening up: As more stores open up our online sales drop. Kiwis look to put their dollar in the hands of other local stores that they have been missing during the Lockdown and we applaud them for that.  We reach out to cafes that are happy to be back at work. The general atmosphere is positive but there is still much uncertainty and the drinks purchased before Lockdown are still well stocked. 

Future: This is uncertain. And it's hard to add much more.
But we are running with what we have got, we hope to survive and we hope that other businesses with passion and a drive for positive impact will make it though.
Now is the time to support New Zealand made. We are ready to get behind our own. If we live local, shop local, and love local by supporting local brands and businesses wherever possible, we will help save businesses and jobs for more Kiwis.
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