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Meet Kate Johansson – Founder of KOJA

March 04, 2022 7 min read

Meet Kate Johansson – Founder of KOJA

Tell us about starting your own business? Where did your inspiration come from? 

KOJA was born 7 years ago when I decided to leave a role working in the supplement industry, to start a food focused business. Knowing that I’d always been passionate about health and nutrition, I thought sports nutrition would be a dream career. However, the supplement industry quickly opened my eyes to the synthetic and artificial formulas and ridiculous ‘magic pills’ touted as health solutions that so many rely on. It quickly became clear to me that many Australians lacked an understanding of basic nutrition principles, and even more concerningly, were not eating enough real food.

My own relationship with food, nutrition and my body has been a long one. At age 18 after a year travelling through Europe I found I’d gained quite a few extra kgs! Following this I spent months or even years trying all the diets out there in an attempt to “be skinny.” The diet industry is packed full of unhealthy artificial products such as meal replacement shakes, diet soft drinks, artificially sweetened protein bars, artificially sweetened diet chocolate treats – you name it I’ve tried it. Despite losing a few kilos here and there, I felt terrible, lacked energy, and felt far from healthy. 

Gradually I realised that dieting and those products weren’t nourishing my body, and even more importantly the obsession with losing weight was very detrimental to my mental health. Once I started eating wholefoods and began to focus less on the calories in food and more on nourishing my body, I finally started to feel healthy again. 

Driven by this passion for real food, nutrition and education, the solution was to create a range of healthy food products that customers could easily enjoy. (And more importantly, I made the commitment that KOJA would never focus on weight loss or dieting!)

KOJA will always provide simple and healthy snack products made from real food. At KOJA, we make healthy simple! 

What’s the best thing about running your business?

What I love most about KOJA is that I get to inspire individuals every single day to fuel their bodies with nutritious wholefoods and teach them how to make healthy simple. 

Supermarket shelves are so often packed with products that claim to be healthy, but are in fact full of hidden sugars, artificial ingredients, preservatives, additives, excess salt, the list goes on. It’s my absolute goal and passion to put real food back on the shelves so customers can have confidence in the health aisle again. KOJA bars are genuinely healthy, they taste delicious and are up to 75% less sugar than most bars in the same aisle. 

Additionally, I get to surround myself with a team of like-minded individuals who all have the same goal – to make healthy eating enjoyable and more accessible to every Australian. 

As a business owner, I’m incredibly passionate about educating others on how to reach their full potential and am incredibly thankful that I can continue to provide real food and have a real impact on people's health. Financial success will never be my primary motivator, though understandably business success does allow me to do more - innovate more, create more products and reach more people.
It’s not about taking over the world to make millions, it’s about taking over the world to educate millions, to help people make better choices and live better lives. I hope I’m growing this business and living my passion every day for a long time to come.

How has this changed since COVID19 started?

Luckily KOJA operates in an authorised industry: Food Production, so we have continued to function at a relatively normal capacity during COVID which I am so grateful for. 

We are of course taking the necessary measures to ensure KOJA is a safe workplace and that employees and suppliers of the business are operating within the health and safety guidelines. There’s been added pressure over the past 18 months however our team is very solutions focused, and we’re used to facing the challenges of a fast growing business every day so in some ways we were ready to face a global pandemic. It’s brought our team together, and made us stronger and more resilient. 

Most importantly, the whole team is overdue for a holiday! We are Melbourne based so we’re going on about 8 months+ in lockdown. 

Being based in Melbourne, Australia: How did you cope with the extended lockdown period?

Generally speaking, it’s made me so grateful for all the wonderful things I do have in my life. I’ve been lucky enough to work throughout the entire period and do my best to something simply good every-day.

I’ve been focusing on my mindset, how I perceive the situation and working on my physical and mental health, whether that be a walk in the morning, a cup of tea and a podcast or a chat with a friend. I’ve learnt that taking just 5 or 10 mins for yourself can have a significant impact on your overall health and mindset. It’s easy to look around at the world we live in and realise that most of us who live in Melbourne are very fortunate, lockdown or not. 

Has KOJA been negatively/positively impacted by the pandemic? How is KOJA adapting or pivoting to survive? 

With so many Australians working from home, statistics show that we are snacking at least 60% more than we were prior to the pandemic. As a healthy snacking company, these behaviour changes have positively impacted KOJA and this remains evident across a variety of our sales channels. 

With parents juggling working from home, home schooling and so many other pressures of lockdown, our customers tell us that having easy healthy snacks in the pantry can be a lifesaver - and we are happy to help!

Our online website has continued to deliver healthy snacks direct to our customers homes Australia wide. We’ve also seen a rise in sales across major supermarkets and independent health stores - this has been consistent throughout the pandemic, but may also be part of an overall upward trend as our sales continue to grow month on month. 

So many local businesses have been hit hard, what are you doing to support your local, what do you recommend we do to support local? 

  • Purchase fresh food from local produce stores

  • Treat yourself to a delicious take-away meal from your favourite local restaurant or café

  • Continue to enjoy coffee from eateries in your area

  • For businesses that can continue via zoom/online, choosing to continue using their services such as gym classes, yoga classes, etc. 

  • Purchase from local creatives who are making items such as re-usable masks

  • Online shopping from small and local businesses rather than the chains

  • Share and post your support for local business’ on social media

  • Word of mouth is such an important marketing channel for small businesses, so when I find a brand I love, I make sure I tell a few friends at minimum

Covid-19 has seriously affected women in the Australian workforce with additional child care hours, and two to one being roughly the division of domestic work. Is this the case for you? How are you able to remain productive? 

In our household, my husband and I both work full-time and we both share household responsibilities equally. This is really important to both of us and makes it feel like we are a great team, supporting each other all the time. I don’t have children, so I personally haven’t been affected by the changing childcare situation, but I deeply empathise with those who have been and can’t imagine how difficult it must be for families in this situation.

Do you think we’ll go back to business as usual, or has the landscape permanently shifted?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who can see that it’s changed permanently. The hour long commute both ways, 5 days a week will hopefully never return. I hope employers realise that it’s possible to have an effective team who succeed in their roles, whilst prioritising flexibility for family, exercise, rest and whatever their priorities are outside of work. 

We have a great team culture at KOJA and recognise that family will always be our team’s priority, and work has to come second to that. As a health focused company as well, we recognise the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle in order to perform more efficiently at work. For our team, it’s not about sitting at a desk for 8 or 10 hours a day, but it’s about what you can achieve each week to move the business forward. 

What business (or life) skills do you think we’ll need for a chance at future/ongoing success?

For our team, building resilience has been a big focus for 2020/2021. That may mean slightly different things for everyone. In a strictly business sense, it has meant diversifying our sales channels, getting to know our supply chains in depth, and recognising the risks in our business and then always having a plan B, C and even a plan D for every scenario!

What's the next exciting thing on your agenda that you can share with us?

We have just launched a brand-new range of healthy snack bars, our KOJA Oat Bars! We have been working on these products for at least 8 months and are incredibly excited to share them. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

Our new Oat Bars are made with 100% Australian Oats and can be enjoy them as a nourishing brekky on-the-go or between meals to keep you satisfied and energised until your next bite to eat. These will be ranged nationally in Woolworths from October 2021, right next to our Peanut Butter bars. 

In addition to the 5 new KOJA Oat Bars, we have a range of KOJA Almond Bars launching in October too. These are gluten free, vegan and made right here in Australia using Australian grown almonds. 

We’re looking ahead to 2022 and we’re excited to be working with major retailers across the country to ensure KOJA is available in every suburb or town Australia wide. 

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