Kate gives us her expert advice on how to improve digestion, achieve brighter skin, more energy as well as her secret about good nutrition and what else is in store for Koja Health in future.
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Rod: Welcome everyone. Rod from Sports Adventure here again. Today, we continue our fantastic interview series where I interview inspirational people from around the world to share their expert insights on mountain biking, good nutrition, and good health.
My guest today has always been passionate about good food and has a simple philosophy on health: To eat real food, cut down unprocessed food products, enjoy food and relax. She is interested in the connection between our health and how we live our lives, truly believing that we need to be physically healthy in order to be happy and emotionally healthy.
She has also starred on Network Ten’s Shark Tank and is the founder of KOJA Health. Today, I would like to welcome Kate Johansson. Good morning.
Kate: Thanks, Rod. Thank you.
Rod: Yeah, thank you very much for being on the program. I really appreciate your time and I really busy with the business and lots of things going on there and yeah and I will jump to the opportunity when you said you would love to have a chat. So, thank you very much.
Kate: No problem. You’re welcome. Thanks again for having me.
Rod: Fantastic. Can you give us a bit of background of that how you got started in KOJA Health? As I mentioned, you starred on Shark Tank and I think a lot of people would recognize you and remember you from there. It was a great segment. And as you and I spoke before, I am a huge fan of your products and have been ever since you were on the show. Can I hear a little bit more about how you kicked it off originally?
Kate: I love telling this story because it really defines me… you know the passion that I have behind for the business and in everyday life: trying to create good products and good food to eat. This passion is still as a strong as the day that I started KOJA. It all started when I was actually working for a supplement company before I started KOJA. My role was to source the ingredients for a supplement formula, the manufacturers, the packaging, develop a brand, so it was a quite a broad new product development role.
Originally, I thought it was going to be amazing position… and it was really an amazing position because I learn so much about nutrition during this role. However, for me, I realised that supplements really aren’t the answer for most people and real food is the only way to be truly healthy. There were a lot of pills claiming to have all your vitamins that you need and to give you more energy etc. But, what the packaging never said is how much other stuff is in them and how synthetic they are and… you know the thing that really got me, in the end, was: Why are we having all these supplements when the real things literally grow on trees? And it does in nuts and seeds and that’s truly where KOJA has started. I realised we can get all this nutrition from real food, why we are having a synthetic version when the real thing has got natural fibre that you don’t get in a multivitamin pill and so much more. Fibre is something I go on, and on about, because I think it is really underrated in the health industry. Most people focus on protein intake as one of the key indicators of good health, but fibre, for me, is so important to your overall health and wellness.
Anyway, while I was working with this supplement industry I had the realisation that we can get over nutrition that we need from real food and we don’t need to be taking pills. I was just sick of walking into supermarkets and looking up and down at shelves going “Hang on! None of this is actually food that I want to eat.” There were so many food products around that are just full of… don’t get me started but like wheat, sugar, preservatives, numbers, and emulsifiers, stabilisers. That makes up so much of the food in the supermarket that I wanted to create something that was completely different to all of that had none of the rubbish in it and never will. And it was full of really good nutritious ingredients. And that’s how it started.
Rod: Yeah, it is a fantastic story, Kate. And to have that philosophy carried all the way through to making a product that’s true to all the things that you believe in. And as you said, it only has real healthy ingredients and I can vouch for what you are saying. Through a chain of events, I thought I used to eat a healthy diet and I fell ill well over a period of time and part of my recovery was to get a fairly drastic change to my diet which it is a paleo diet type approach. And ever since then, I can vouch for as you said. You are going to a supermarket… and I only walked down a couple of aisles when I am shopping just for myself I pretty much ignore most of all at the supermarket because of, as you said, all the other stuff that’s on the shelves that we are told to eat and we should eat more of and it is all good for us and it is all healthy but at the end of the day I can’t remember feeling as well in myself as what I do now, eating what I do and exercising as well. As opposed to when I used to eat what I thought was a healthy diet which couldn’t have been further from the truth, to be honest.
Kate: That touches on something else that I’m very passionate about. A lot of people need the education around what’s good and what’s not. So many people are exactly like you and I feel like that too where you think you are doing the right thing and you trying to make the right choices and we are putting all this energy and trying to be healthy, but you are products that aren’t what they say they are on the front.
Rod: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And I think for me and the learning process that I have been through in educating myself and just finding the right stuff to eat, at sometimes in the start it was quite challenging and quite overwhelming… where do you start, I am going to be hungry all the time, what am I going to do to fit the hole in the stuff in the stomach, if you like? But to come across products like KOJA and what you have done with your team, it’s fantastic that there are real products out there that taste great and they are not going to take a lot of time to prepare and get organized which a lot of good healthy food takes a long while to get organized. And we don’t have a lot of time these days. We are all time poor. Something like your KOJA products are there, they are accessible, and they taste great. So…
Kate: Yeah, I mean we keep touching on that. My motivation behind the business and the things that I am passionate about and that’s exactly it. Like you have mentioned that a lot of people spend a lot of time and don’t have a lot of time to choose the right foods and we live very busy lives. And I think for me I never wanted to create a product that made anyone’s life more challenging or complicated in any way. So, with our brand and with all the marketing that we do… you know I never tried to push something that’s overly complicated or strict. I just say to people look what you are doing right now but if you can add two tablespoons of KOJA to your day whether that’s Breakfast Toppers or our Salad Toppers, they have all got 25 vitamin and minerals in every serve. They have got a really nice hit of protein naturally occurring and they’re high in fibre too. People really do notice a difference in how they feel, and I love it when a customer notices the changes in how they feel.
Some will say “I changed nothing else in my diet, but I added 2 tablespoons of KOJA with my breakfast and my digestion is better, my skin is brighter, my energy is better I wake up feeling different…” That’s why I do what I do because I had that experience myself and thought why doesn’t everybody eat and nuts and seeds every day. They are so good for us. How can I make something that makes it really easy to include in your diet? They can go on for breakfast with fruit and yogurt and porridge or 2 tablespoons just with whatever you are having for breakfast on top of a smoothie things like that. And with lunch and dinner, you know the Salad Toppers are really versatile. I found myself snacking on them. Straight out of the box at 3 in the afternoon. Yeah, just sprinkled on salad and curries and almost anything you can imagine.
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Rod: Yeah, that’s terrific. Well done. The KOJA Health business has grown significantly obviously since your first beginning at Shark Tank as well. What are some of the great things of working with the KOJA team?
Kate: We have grown but we are still a really small business. I think being on Shark Tank sometimes people think that we’re this big team and there’s lots of us. But really there is still just team of three of us – myself and two others. We work with a contract kitchen. So we have got lots of people helping out making the products there handmade and hand packed. Then we work with a really wide network of retailers, so a lot of our sales are done by us supplying a little health food store or the independent supermarket and then they are selling it to customers.
So when I think of theKOJA team, I really think of everyone that’s involved not just the three of us that are here at the office each day.
I just love this industry and I can’t imagine working in any other industry ever again because, getting into the food industry and everyone is genuinely passionate about food and, particularly in the health food industry which is where we definitely fit. Everyone is just trying to do exactly what I am doing which is to get real food to customers, get better food out there, improve people’s health, and so it is just a pleasure to work with people that are so passionate about what will do.
Rod: Wow, that’s awesome. Well done, Kate. Terrific. You were so passionate about helping Australians improve their health. What are the three top things you believe someone should know about good food o kick start themselves in the right direction?
Kate: Yeah, definitely. I think it is going to be difficult for me to just pick three things because honestly, I can rant, rant, and rant about the stuff like this.
But I mentioned earlier fibre and I think that’s a really underrated part of your diet. I encourage people to look at where they are getting fibre from. The best source of fibre is just fruits and veggies, and nuts, and seeds. I obviously I eat lots of nuts and seeds so always pushing those. I encourage everyone to think about fruits and veg more and include more in your day like that’s the best source of fibre. And regarding fibre I think that it is really important for your overall health and longevity. And that will probably lead into my second point.
My first point just eating more fibre, plant foods, or fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds every day. Have a look at insoluble and soluble fibre and make sure you are getting a balance of both you know your digestion is going to be so much better. You are going to get more nutrition out of the food that you are eating, buy, and putting, fibre in your day. And just overall health because that’s how you maintain your health.
But the second thing that I am really passionate about is not stressing too much about all the food that we eat. And especially from a female perspective which I know a lot of your readers are probably male but I come to the industry from a female perspective obviously being a woman. And I think it can be overwhelming with so many different diets, so many different recommendations on what we should be eating and how we should look. And the one thing that I am really passionate about is just trying to relax around food, have some simple guidelines for you… and habits and recipes that you know you can cook easily, options for lunch that you know are good for you. But try not to stress about it too much. Right? I would never count calories. I would never follow a strict diet. For me, I think it is just about enjoying good food, 80% of the time and if you do want to indulge 20% of the time, do it with good quality chocolate or wine or whatever you love. But if you are getting it right 80% of the time, that’s what’s going to be important and not stressing too much in your mind because we all know that mental health is just as important as physical health. And they go hand in hand. If you are spending so much time thinking on I have to change my body, my body is not good enough or I am bigger than the person next to me or I need bigger biceps or you know what I mean. If you focus on the negatives it’s going to affect you emotionally and mentally and therefore there are consequences of it physically. So, for me, I try to relax around food and just know that everybody is different and the most important thing is being healthy on the inside: in your body and your mind.
There, so I don’t know. Did I get to 3 tips? I think I might have only got to 2 but if I am going to be 3rd it would just read your labels. Forget about the claims on the front of every packet. It takes a minute but turn a packet over, find the fine print that says what the ingredients are and make sure that is the food that you want to be eating. And if it is all of numbers and stabilizers and preservatives and emulsifiers, maltodextrin, just put it back on the shelf and keep walking.
Rod: Yeah. That is so true. And you covered on so many good points there, Kate. And particularly mental health as well and getting back to your philosophy and how world you believe that good nutrition can effect different aspects of our enter body and our mind as well. All those things are so important. And like you said keep it simple and don’t over stress, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t stick to a 100% be relaxed. It’s a lovely approach you have there. I think that’s very very good, Kate. Well done.
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Rod: Terrific. If you had one secret about good nutrition and you touched on 5 and you touched on half a dozen really good things there, would you have one hot tip to give?
Kate: Yeah, I think it just comes back to what I have already touched on which is not stressing about it too much, and for me that comes from my personal experience. I was always fit and healthy and really sporty as a teenager. And then about 18 I moved to London, and I experience the heathrow injection which was a real issue for me. I put on about 10 kilos in a year. So, I went from being super fit and healthy and you know always eating a really healthy diet to working in a pub that provided lunch and dinner 5 days a week, and knock off drinks straight after work. And I found myself bursting through the top button of my jeans very quickly. Then I moved back to Australia after about 18 months and I was really passionate about losing this weight and put a lot of energy into trying to do the right things.
And after about a year of dieting,I finally realised that I needed to stop counting all the calories and stop eating all the crappy diet soft drinks and the meal replacement powders and all the sugar-free artificially sweetened rubbish. And I got off all of that stuff and I just ate real food and I relaxed a bit about everything. And I did gradually return a much healthier weight. But through about experience, I realized what I have already been talking about which is for me like I am a size 12. I am not a super skinny health model or anything like that. I am just a normal person who’s healthy and has gone through some weight gain and then some weight loss and I found a healthy weight. And I think that’s my secret to being healthy. I focus on internal health. I focus on giving my body the nutrition that I need to be able to get up in the morning and live my life and do the things that I am passionate about rather than focusing on what size my jeans might be.
Rod: Certainly. Yeah, that is great. That experience that you have had of being fit and healthy and then working that different sort of life, yeah working in a pub and all the food drinks associated with that, it is all great. It is all good fun. But then realizing where you are at and coming back again that’s a great experience to have which a lot of people can probably relate to. And having gone through that journey of trying to get yourself back to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy mind and healthy body all of those things and trying all that stuff before you came to a point of just focusing on pure good nutrition and the right food. It is a great expeirence that you have had to be able to draw on.
Kate: Yeah. That’s amazing. Right. Probably wouldn’t have said that when I was carrying an extra about 10 kilos!
Rod: Yeah, certainly.
Rod: Good experiences. Good experiences. Yeah. Some figures I heard this morning when I was out about I believe there is a study that’s been done and I understand it associated with a lot of the poor food choices that people are making these days. There is a large percentage of our population their heart health is 10 years older than what they actual health is. And those sort of things are quite startling quite scaring yeah down the line if you look at the lifespan of people and where they are at and where they are going. There is a big issue there.
Kate: Yeah. Definitely. And, I am not a doctor but my experience or my knowledge around heart health is mainly related to exercise and eating a healthy diet which is not rocket science. But I think there are too many people who don’t get up and move.
Rod: Yeah. Too true. Yeah. You have got a really busy day now as we spoke about this morning. You have been up, you have been at the gym and you are back into the business there. Do you have a daily routine to keep start the day, to keep you focused on where you are at and where you are going?
Kate: I know but a lot of people might get up and meditate and do yoga and things like that and I don’t do that in the morning. I like to get up and go the gym like you mentioned probably 3-4 times a week sometimes even more. But it is always hard getting up early for gym in the morning. I always feel so much better when I have got up and sweated like it just wakes up my mind too. I think everybody who exercises is going to understand that. Once you have done a really hard session you get a real buzz and you are just ready for the day. So, yeah love working out in the morning.
Otherwise, in regards to routine, I am pretty flexible. My days are often very different so I might have been an early meeting where I got to drive out somewhere around might be straight into the office so I am not be out of kitchens or something like that working on a new range of products. So, I don’t have a consistent routine but I know that I need to drink water and have something to eat in the morning. And if I don’t do those 2 things I usually get pretty grumpy pretty quickly!
Kate: So I don’t have a great answer for that question but exercise is amazing for stress relief and it gives me the energy to start my day strong.
Rod: Certainly. I think you touched on go at the gym and the buzz that you feel that most people feel of the back and for me particularly that’s what keeps me coming back for more. You are spot on when you say in the morning the alarm goes off its the last thing you want to do.
You are in Melbourne at the moment, it is cold, yeah to go out is often the worse place you want to be. But to do it get out and for me as well I am a morning person. So I get up and do something for yourself like that first thing in the morning means that you are not going to lose that time or lose that opportunity to do that exercise again. And as you said, it gives you buzz to kick start and get going, switch your mind on and really ramp things up. So, I have to agree with you there, Kate.
Rod: Could you give us some real life feedback from other people who have used your products? You have touched on a couple of examples early on about people who have used your products and they notice a change in their digestion and their skin and things like that. Just some other examples as well you can touch on, Kate?
Kate: Yeah, definitely. I was driving in my car about 2 months ago and someone called me and I said “Hi Kate speaking.” And it was a customer calling to really explain how much KOJA had made a difference to their life. And it actually made me want to cry because I am so honoured to be able to improve someone’s life in that way and that’s just simple as adding 2 Tablespoons of KOJA to your day. But, by putting that nuts and seeds in a box, beautifully blended nuts and seeds but it is perfectly balanced. It is also easy. That means that instead of having your go to health food shop and try to pick 10 different ingredients and don’t know how to mix them up in the morning and things like that, these customers have just a grabbed a box of KOJA and going. I think this is going to be good for my health and I only need two tablespoons a day like that’s simple.
She started adding two tablespoon day to her diet and she said to me, “She didn’t change anything else. Her digestion has completely changed, her energy has complete changed.” She is a customer in her 60’s and she said that for the last year she has been feeling really run down and tired all the time, struggling to get going in the morning, and she thought that it was just aging. She thought that she was just getting older! And then she tried KOJA and she got the spring in her step back & got her energy levels back and digestion completely changed, her energy completely changed. And that gives you I know what it likes to feel rubbish. And when you feel great you can do all the things that you want to do with your day and with your life. And I think being able to create a product that gives them more energy to follow their dreams is a real honour. So that’s probably my favourite story at the moment. There are so many I find when I do like markets and things like that. People will often be very honest about the digestion issues or the health issues that they have had and how KOJA has fixed it. We probably don’t talk about it because when it comes to digestion it often comes to bowel movements and bloating and things that most people really don’t want to talk about. But, when it happens to you it affects your day and everything that you. So, if there is a solution to reducing your bloating or improving your digestion or helping you to beat things like IBS symptoms all that is feedback that we have had from KOJA customers just by adding more fibre and more nutrition in the nuts and seeds to your day.
Rod: Yeah, good one. And that’s a great story. And as you said I can hear the passion in your voice when you talk. But getting that sort of feedback would be absolutely touching. And to be able to have such a major impact on people’s lives by just using your products is a buzz. I can relate to that. Well done. Good on you, Kate.
Kate: Thank you.
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Rod: Very good. You have mentioned sometimes different parts of your day you can be out working with your team in the kitchen and things. Do you have other things playing that you would like to share for KOJA Health and Future?
Kate: Yeah, well you have kind have to lead me right into it because I think something I realized about a year ago about all of our KOJA products aren’t good for “on-the-go”. The toppers you add two tablespoons on to your bowl of breakfast in the morning or a few toppers to salad to lunch or even if you buy a salad for lunch you can add KOJA to it. But there is still always going to be that time when you are out and about, you are on the road, you are stuck, and you don’t have healthy food. I was at the airport recently trying to buy something healthy for breakfast and it was a real challenge.
So, what I’m launching a range of natural proteins bars that are going to be available very soon. They have a base of peanut butter. So instead of using the base of dried fruit which I feel like a lot of the natural snack bars are made with dates, we are using nut butter instead. So much lower sugar content than what the natural snack bars that are currently available. And they’re also real ingredients. So there is none of the whey protein from china, or artificial sweeteners or stabilisers that you find in a lot of protein bars. But we are still 27% protein on the bars and that’s naturally occurring from ingredients like peanut butter, cashews, chia seeds and we are using organic sprouted brown rice protein powder.
So, I am really excited about this and the launch. I honestly believe there is nothing else like them. Even though there are a thousand bars available but people that want a healthy snack, I truly believe that they need different and I am really excited. I came up with the recipe over a year ago and it’s been a year of product development, and shelf life testing, and packaging, and finding suppliers, and manufacturers, and we are at the pointy end of it now and I hope in the month up to launch maybe 6 weeks. So, stay tuned. And I really think that’s just going to be a nice product to complement our existing range. It is going to be so convenient and it will give people an option that they are really filling.
Rod: That sounds really exciting and I can certainly agree with you. When you are traveling you have less time than what you do on a normal day and trying to find something worth while eating. You mentioned the airport. I can relate to that as well and I am often hunting around at the airport trying to cover together picks some pieces from different chaos to put something together that’s going to be filling enough for decent enough food. And, I think you might have hit the nail on the head there Kate. So I look forward to yeah those bags coming out and certainly being a tester. Yeah. As I have said before, you know our family is a huge fan and we tell everyone about KOJA. So, yeah we look forward to those that would be terrific.
Rod: And where can people find out a bit more information about KOJA? You have got a great website. We do all our ordering for our family through your website. Yeah if you have got have some information there, Kate?
Kate: Yeah the website is koja.com.au. And we are also on Facebook and Instagram if you are looking for ideas on how to use the product… And a lot of our content on social media is just reposting our customers who shared pictures of how they use the products. So it is really good for like real life recipes and meal ideas. And to get in touch with me, my email is email@example.com. And if anyone has got any questions about something that I touched on today or really anything at all, I am happy to hear from your readers.
Rod: Terrific. That’s great. I might wrap it up there Kate. I really appreciate your time. You have got into a lot of detail on some great areas and will be of a lot of interest to a lot of our listeners. And yeah thanks again. It’s been great to talk to you. We have might even to have another time to have another chat down the line and just see where you are at and where you are going with the rest of these.
Kate: Yeah, I would love that. Thanks so much, Rod. Thanks for your time.
Rod: Thank you very much. Have a great day Kate.
Kate: Thanks. You too.
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About The Author
Rod Bucton, mountain bike fanatic from Mid North Coast, New South Wales Australia… helping middle aged men improve their lives with exercise, good nutrition and good health and while you’re at it follow Rod on Facebook or Instagram.
Like any sport, bicycling involves risk of injury and damage. By choosing to ride a bicycle, you assume the responsibility for that risk, so you need to know — and to practice — the rules of safe and responsible riding and of proper use and maintenance. Proper use and maintenance of your bicycle reduces risk of injury.