Since 1987, CH’I drinks has been a regular and healthy contributor to the drinks category in New Zealand. The brand is celebrating 32 years in business with a refreshed look, new location and new products, with the team busy planning to bring new ideas and add value from the new workshop location in Riverhead, just outside Auckland.

In the mid-1980s, founder Gary Furniss was convinced a natural beverage would be better for consumers than the soft drinks that once dominated the drinks aisle. Furniss studied natural products and its many benefits back in the UK during the 60s, at a time when the ‘natural’ trend wasn’t exactly on-trend. Using his knowledge and advice from traditional herbalists he launched the CH’I Original herbal drink to a very surprised market in 1987.

Being ahead of its time has become a bit of a habit for the CH’I business. Thirty years ago, the team wrote to the Minister of Health deeply concerned about the potential harm coming from excessive consumption of soft drinks with high levels of sugar. “They asked for permission to use stevia as a natural sugar replacement,” said Ray Nicholls, managing director at CH’I Drinks.

“In 1989 the Minister of Health had other things on her desk and CH’I’s request was politely declined. After waiting 20 years for the rules to change, CH’I stevia sweetened sugar free was launched in 2011, a significant seven years ahead of the industry leaders’ first stevia sweetened product.”

While all this was happening, CH’I has steadily reduced the sugar level in its original drink from a whopping 11 percent in 1987, to 8.4 percent, with more reductions to come. “With this reduction and a focus on sugar levels in new products, we have more than halved our sugar usage.” The handcrafted herbal ideas and contents of the drinks set the CH’I brand apart. Consumers instantly recognise these as a source of earthy connected ideas and there’s a confidence the product will be positive and healthy. With consumers being increasingly more aware of provenance of products and brands the team at CH’I are proud of the brand’s story and the team behind it.

“Eating or drinking something is a huge display of faith in the people suppyling it. You have to respect that. We’re aiming to do much more to earn more consumer confidence than to just simply meet our legal food safety obligations.”

A feature of the CH’I business is its private ownership that has only been in the hands of three New Zealand families. “Some days it’s a handicap, but most days, it’s a blessing.”

In the last 12 months, the CH’I team have taken the business through an ownership change, relocation and a brand evolution. The result is the new identity – The CH’I Drinks Workshop at Riverhead, New Zealand. The strong green, red and white branding continues into the refreshed look of the logo and packaging. The New Zealand origin shout out is front and centre on new labels. Like most beverage industry players, CH’I support the proposed container refund scheme.

“We’ve had similar schemes in our export markets for decades and they are not the end of the world. It’s just one more thing to adapt to while you get on with the real business of refreshing customers.”

PET packaging has been the main form of bottles for CH’I historically. With its new sparkling products, the brand has opted for glass and is planning to progressively adopt more recyclable packaging.

From here on, the CH’I business is openly declaring its purpose. “We’re all about crafting new herbally-inspired ideas that can build the value in CH’I for all our partners.” The first of these new ideas are being rolled out now with two value-added entries in the ginger drinks category and the unique high pH water that has been a foundation of CH’I is offered as a naturally alkaline water. There is more to come with plans to take CH’I into other categories where herbal ideas can add value.