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Generation Next: From playing in bands to managing brands, Mamma Chia’s Anya Kaats is an industry superstar

She graduated high school a year early; worked for a casting company in New York City at age 16; lived in Paris; studied abroad in Amsterdam; toured the country as a musician; and packed her bags at the drop of a hat to move cross-country for her career.

To refer to Anya Kaats, a New York native and the 25-year-old brand manager of Mamma Chia, as ambitious could be the understatement of the year.

AnyaAnya KaatsAs a self-proclaimed “gym rat” and yoga fanatic, Kaats has always had a passion for whole foods and healthy living, but never imagined pursuing a career in the produce industry until, of course, the opportunity just happened to present itself.

“It was sort of by accident,” Kaats said of getting her start in the produce industry. “Right out of college, I was planning on going to grad school and in the meantime I was going to take a year off and work. I got a job at Whole Foods and after three weeks working in the prepared foods department, a position opened up to be the store demo specialist.”

Never one to pass up a good opportunity, Kaats interviewed for the position and got it. Shortly thereafter, she found herself in charge of opening a new Whole Foods store in Yonkers, NY.

“Throughout this whole process, one of my biggest passions was always education,” she said. “Not only educating the customers, but also educating the staff.”

A big part of Kaats’s responsibilities at Whole Foods included in-store events focused on educating employees through the help of industry specialists brought in to perform demos with their products.

Enter Brad Gruno, founder of Brad’s Raw Foods, based in Pipersville, PA.

Through Gruno’s many in-store demos with Whole Foods, Kaats quickly formed a business relationship with him and his company. After about 10 months working for Whole Foods, a position opened up at Brad’s Raw Foods to start a demo team in the New York area. Once again, Kaats applied, got the job, and next thing she knew that Northeast demo program turned into a nationwide endeavor.

“Because all start-ups are similar, everyone wears many, many hats,” Kaats explained. “Me creating a demo program in the Northeast turned into, a year-and-a-half later, a national demo and marketing program.”

Kaats managed teams of up to 50 people who performed about 250 demos per month. Her responsibilities expanded to overseeing the entire marketing department, including managing the social media team and all of the public relations for the company, as well as overseeing the creation of all the printed and digital sales collateral.

After nearly two years and much success at Brad’s Raw Foods, Kaats was offered a position with Carlsbad, CA-based Mamma Chia, a chia-based food and beverage company that aims to provide natural vitality, energy and strength through its line of certified-organic and non-GMO chia products. Knowing this position would further her career, Kaats accepted the job, packed up her belongings and bought a one-way ticket from New York to California.

“I just came with some suitcases, shipped my car and took a plane,” she laughed. “I’m just here with some clothes and a car.”

But so far, so good. Kaats has been living in California and working for Mamma Chia since July and has already seen tremendous growth and success with the company.

“It’s been really interesting overall to experience the company’s growth and see how these new products have been able to infiltrate and be successful in different arenas, like produce,” she said. “What I really love is how strategically the company operates and how organized it is. We’re not just launching products left and right, we’re really focusing on what the consumers are asking for and how to best fit their needs.”

Kaats noted that the response to Mamma Chia products within the produce industry has been “pretty much immediate and positive.”

“The buyers as well as the customers are so receptive [of the products],” she said, noting that the demographic for Mamma Chia shops the perimeter of the store, not necessarily in the juice and soda aisle. “It really does make sense that these items be placed in the produce departments, and I think the buyers are aware of that.”

As for a day in the life at Mamma Chia, Kaats said there really is no such thing as a “typical” day. Her responsibilities as brand manager range from overseeing the company’s social media accounts to running the demo programs, planning all of the trade shows, working directly with the vice presidents of marketing, sales and operations and chief executive officer to update and create all of the company’s labeling, and overseeing the creation of all the sales collateral.

And even though her job can be overwhelming at times with trying to stay ahead of the game and on top of the product category, Kaats said she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“At this point, I can’t imagine not working for a growing company,” she said. “It’s so exciting to see all of the Instagram photos, tweets and Facebook posts about people everywhere discovering Mamma Chia. I love being able to take part in these marketing programs and share these great products with people.”