Recipe that spawned $10 million empire
PEDALLING her Cruiser pushbike around Sydney four years ago, Charlie de Haas never thought her edible bliss balls would turn in to lucrative $10 million business.
Now, she's dubbed the Queen of Balls after founding a line of healthy edible cakes and slices, now known as The Clean Treats Co,
The trendy food company specialises in creating healthy balls and slices without the "guilt" of hidden sugars or preservatives.
Health problems of her own prompted her to start the venture, despite having no experience in the food industry - and little in her own kitchen - before she launched, the 34-year-old told news.com.au.
"It started in my kitchen … I couldn't cook, but somehow the treats worked," she said.
"I'd suffered from digestive problems, I was going to specialists about it and was always trying to learn about the food in my body.
"So I would make these treats for promotional use, and for myself, because I felt my digestive health was getting better on them," she said.
Ms de Haas had battled both physical and mental illnesses in the past, which saw her prescribed high strength antidepressants and valium.
After quitting her job about four years ago she was at a crossroads - and desperately needed a way to pay the rent.
With a background as a fitness model, she was big on clean eating. But her "addictive personality" meant a cheat meal was a tub of ice cream, "which would make me sick".
"I went to Coles and started buying and blending ingredients," she explained. "[Making them] was one of those things that just worked straight away.
"I had no food experience, but my work ethic was second to none."
After mixing up her products, she hit the ground running - or pedalling, to be exact.
Cycling around Sydney, she'd unashamedly ask potential clients "would you like to eat my balls?". It didn't always work, but it got attention.
"I came from a sales game so it didn't matter if someone said no," she laughed. "I believed in my product, and I was good with making these treats."
Speaking to mybodyandsoul.com.au's podcast Healthy-ish, Ms De Haas said her success also comes down to timing.
"When I started, there was no one around," she said. "I had a picture of this business three years ago." The company is now valued at $10 million.
Alongside the edible treats, Ms de Haas took cafe space in Sydney's Alexandria where she sells plant-based breakfast and lunch fare, as well as her signature clean treats.
"Across both The Clean Treats Factory and Cafe by Clean Treats, we have 20-30 employees," she explained.
"We are making thousands of balls each week for our stock and wholesale, and have around 80 products. I sometimes have to pinch myself."
Ms De Haas said the move to a bricks and mortar store was a "huge risk".
"It is a lot of pressure, and there have been growing pains," she said.
"We took a huge risk in launching this space, as well as learning on the go.
"Hiring my first full-time employee, achieving one million in sales, signing the lease to the 1400 square metre facility, opening the doors to our space and feeling like this is a real business has all been fantastic," she told the Daily Mail.
In Australia, there's a growing hunger for organically grown produce. According to the Australian Organic Market Report (2017), two in every three Australian households report buying organic products in the past year. Millennials, or parents with young children have an even higher chance of bumping up that spend.
Ms De Haas' dry product mixes start from $14.95 for a plant based cinnamon pancake mix, or $30 for a box of 12 Clean Treats Balls. She says the price tag stacks up against the amount of product received.
"Generally these should make between 8 and 10 protein balls," she said of the $14.95 packet. "If you were to purchase these in the shops you're looking at an average of $3.50 per product so 8 times that is $28.
There's no question that the snacking trend in Australia is evolving, especially as more consumers opt for grazing rather than just relying on three square meals each day.
According to Compare The Market, the Australian snack market is now worth more than $2 billion with Australians snacking on vegetables, fruits, grains and homemade or store bought 'cleaner' treats four times as much compared to 10 years ago. In the US, according to Nielsen, the snacking world is valued over $3.4 billion.
Ms De Haas also catered for social media in her business plan, creating a "snappable" social-media friendly product customers want to share.
The business's Instagram account boasts more than 72k followers, and daily posts keep up with demand and create new clientele.
"We designed our product specifically for social media," she explained. "Our redesign [of the packaging] was to create a 'luxe' feel.
"We stayed away from the standard 'natural' brown and bright colours or busy packaging full of claims and went with monochrome and millennial pink so our product would match peoples newsfeeds.
"We spend a lot of time tuning into what is happening in the social world; what other businesses are doing, what people are doing to make their mark and how people are connecting and communicating," she explained.
"We also analyse our customers and the message we want to send before every partnership (collaborations and giveaways), products or posts. It's important because it allows us a direct connection to our customer - we have the ability to ask customers what they want and then we can roll it out within seven days."