Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to chat with Santiago Stacey, co-founder, LiveKuna, about the company's journey to bring chia into the mainstream.
Liz Parker: How did LiveKuna get started?
Santiago Stacey: LiveKuna was founded when 99 percent of chia seeds grown in Ecuador, our home country, were being exported. After coming across chia seeds for the first time at a Canadian tradeshow in 2013, I was hooked on learning more about the ingredient—I even started incorporating it in my own diet. I learned that Ecuador, a powerhouse food producer, was a major supplier of chia seeds in Latin American at that time, but only used them for export. We weren’t taking full advantage of these amazing seeds.
Powered by curiosity and passion for chia seeds and nutrition, I teamed up with an old school friend, Carlos Gutierrez, and started our mission to utilize the locally grown crop in new, accessible ways. From the start, sourcing quality ingredients from our home community was a top priority. Our purpose has always been to simply lead people towards a healthier life by giving them better food choices.
LP: How did LiveKuna become the first mainstream chia brand in Ecuador?
SS: When we launched LiveKuna in 2014, superfoods were not a trend in Ecuador. There was no culture around chia, and little awareness around how chia seeds could be used for local consumption. We began educating consumers in Ecuador about the nutritional benefits and practical applications of chia. Most importantly, we created a lifestyle around the brand that eventually became a community of health-driven consumers.
We recognized a need for more convenient and delicious ways for Ecuadorians to consume superfoods, and in response, developed innovative ingredients and pantry items made from chia and quinoa. After our first year, we grew the superfood category by 400 percent in Ecuador and we were named “supplier of the year” at Ecuador’s largest retailer. Since then, we have expanded our portfolio of products to include gluten-free flours, pastas, cereals, seeds, grains, and a growth-driving line of superfood snacks called KunaPops.
LP: How did the brand work with co-ops and directly with farmers to source ingredients?
SS: Before launching the brand, Carlos and I set out to find Ecuadorian farmers who were growing superfoods, committing early-on to working with family farms to source our ingredients. Today, we work with over 500 environmentally friendly family farms from the provinces of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi in Ecuador. We’re creating jobs and cultivating a community of local growers around superfood crops—a win for growers, for the environment, and consumers.
LP: How did the brand enter the U.S. market, and since then, how has it expanded?
SS: LiveKuna entered the U.S. market in 2017, with the launch of our gluten-free and organic Quinoa and Banana Flours, providing a wheat free alternative flour for the celiac community. In 2020, we strengthened our online presence, offering our products on direct-to-consumer platforms like Amazon, delivering products to technology-savvy U.S. customers nationwide.
This summer, we launched KunaPops, chia and quinoa puffed snacks, at all Sprouts Farmers Market locations across the country. We also partnered with GoPuff and SnackMagic to provide better access to healthy snacking on delivery services and unboxing platforms. These strategic launches have increased our store and online presence in the United States eight-fold, strengthening our purpose of leading people towards a healthier life by giving them access to better food choices.
LP: What’s next for the brand? Any new products on the horizon?
SS: It’s an exciting time of growth for LiveKuna as we build our retail presence in the U.S. and bring our superfood products to consumers nationwide. We are confident that people gravitate towards LiveKuna products because we’re part of a fresh wave of food companies caring about nutrition, traceability and sustainability, all without sacrificing taste. We’re always working to stay current on what consumers want, from healthier ingredients in their snacks and foods that fuel them throughout the day, to familiar snacking formats with new and unexpected ingredients and bold flavors. We’ll continue to explore what’s trending in the industry and adapt to new preferences and consumer desires as the business grows.