Nuts for coconuts
Combining her passion for food with her penchant for healthy living, our latest That Girl, Valerie Chiu is the founder of Cocoparadise, a healthy snack brand that makes delicious grab-and-go treats. Using simple ingredients (with no hidden nasties!), she works her magic in the kitchen to create wholesome superfood treats that are gluten, dairy and refined sugar free. We caught up with Valerie for her thoughts on starting a business, to learn how she stays motivated while living healthy lifestyle as well as her guilty pleasures…
Tells us a little about yourself. What inspired you to start Cocoparadise?
Never did I realise the importance of healthier food choices and being active until later in my life. I’ve been blessed to be able to indulge in whatever I wanted during my time away in university, until in the last year of my studies, I came back for the holidays and went for a checkup where I was warned that I was becoming too overweight. It was a wake up call and it made me reflect more about my health and my body. I made small changes, one step at a time. I walked more when I could, I joined a gym. I started learning more about eating cleaner and cooking for myself, using real ingredients that were not processed.
Slowly I started to see results, but not only was I shedding weight, I started to feel good and better in so many aspects. I was more energetic, more focused and much more efficient. I started to fall in love with cooking and clean eating and got addicted to exercising and staying active. But part of my happiness lies in coconuts and sweet treats… and I quickly realised that way too many snacks in the market were packed with processed, artificial flavouring and ingredients that I didn’t want to eat. So I started to explore and make my own treats, ones that made me feel good yet also satisfied my cravings and kept me sane! I’ve been on an incredible journey so far into being able to discover a healthier lifestyle and better self. I do believe everyone is capable of doing so and hopefully by sharing what I love, I’ll be able to inspire people to live healthier and happier as well!
What do you love most about your job and becoming an entrepreneur? What advice would you give to our aspiring Sassy readers?
I love everything about my job. I never thought I would be doing something like this, it first just started out as a side hobby! It honestly is so scary to do a startup but it’s been so exciting and rewarding. Building something ground up, you get the chance to learn so much about everything. It was never easy and it still isn’t, it will take up all of your time and energy but if you love and believe in what you do – you know it will always be worth all the sleepless nights, struggles, failures and challenges! I am so lucky to have come so far with an amazing group of friends and family that support me. I believe that if you love what you do, you’ll always find a way to keep you going – so my advice is to find your passion.
Also, a lot of people never took me seriously when I first started. The key is to be persistent and never give up. Sometimes you just need to go for it, as you never know until you give it a chance. If you have an idea, why not test out your ideas with friends, family then put it out to the market. Be open to feedback and constantly learn and grow from your mistakes and failures then adapt and keep improving. I am still constantly learning and trying to improve everyday! I’ve made made countless mistakes and stupid decisions… and I know I will go through a lot more to reach my dreams but all of this has helped me and my company come this far. If you put your heart and mind into it, anything is possible!
Walk us through what a typical day at work looks like.
Usually during my mornings I would be cooking and sorting upcoming orders and helping with kitchen operations: such as making sure we have enough stock and ingredients and sorting out our production plan for the upcoming weeks. During the afternoon I spend time replying emails and working on improving and tweaking things such as my website, my packaging designs, or upcoming projects, creating and testing new recipes and any specials that will be launching. On delivery days I would line up meetings during the late afternoon after I drop off my products or else I would usually stay at the kitchen to finish up upcoming projects and orders.
Tell us, what do you do in your leisure time?
During my free-time I usually love to stay active by hitting the gym, going to an F45 class in Quarry Bay or catching up with friends over food and drinks (after starting up you barely have time for anything haha!). I also find myself spending time in the kitchen cooking and experimenting with new recipes or cooking for my family.
What does living a ‘healthy lifestyle’ mean to you?
To me, living a healthy lifestyle is about balance and not about restriction, strict diets and over-training. Healthy should be enjoyable. It’s about finding the things that makes you feel good and doing that things that make you happy. I look at healthy from an overall standpoint, mentally and physically. I mean if eating chicken breast and broccoli every day makes you truly happy – then feel free to do it! But if you also want to enjoy that chocolate molten cake – GO FOR IT! Take time to enjoy yourself.
How do you stay motivated to eat healthily?
When you learn to love how it makes you feel, you don’t need to be motivated and it comes naturally to you. I believe that eating healthy doesn’t mean bland and boring foods – eating better doesn’t have to be hard and can taste great too – hopefully Cocoparadise can help prove this!
Currently, what would you say your favourite ‘health’ trend is in Hong Kong? Why?
This is easy. Coconuts. I definitely would say there are a lot more coconut products popping up recently and I am loving this! Born in Bangkok, coconuts have always been in my life and to see its growing popularity and greater awareness of its health benefits is wonderful. From coconut ice creams, pudding, coconut milk, coconut yogurt, and of course snacks, I do hope this trend keeps growing!
Name your guilty-pleasure food.
Soft Serve! Yes. Yes. Yes. But seriously nothing beats coconut ice-cream on the streets of Thailand, I can have that everyday when I travel back home for a visit. That stuff is the bomb. Go try it.
Where do you see the healthy eating scene in Hong Kong heading?
Things have really changed since I first came back to Hong Kong two years ago. Back then it was so difficult to find choices for clean, refined-sugar free, vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free options. Now it’s great to start seeing various gyms popping up, you slowly realise there are more new healthy eateries and health stores as well. You can really see that Hong Kong is starting to really take a turn to becoming more health conscious. I feel it slowly growing and I do believe more healthy options will become more available and soon become the norm.
We know that Hong Kong can get hectic at times (hear, hear!), so we’re keen to know what you do to de-stress and unwind when you’re not working.
For me, staying away from the busy city centre helps a lot. I live in New Territories, so I can go for a walk along the seaside (I live 15 minutes away from the Golden Beach – Gold Coast Hotel) to help gather my thoughts and clear my mind. I love the sun and I’d usually try to find some kind of outdoor activity to do when the sun’s out – hiking, biking and chilling by the beach drinking a fresh coconut…
Thanks to the talented Michelle Proctor of Michelle Proctor Photography for all of the beautiful images above! Follow her on Instagram @michellejproctor and Facebook at www.facebook.com/MichelleProctorPhotography.
Photos courtesy of Michelle Proctor Photography. These images may not be reproduced without without prior permission from the photographer.