Bubbly, determined and always on-the-go, Caroline Chang is a true wellness warrior. After suffering from digestive issues since her teen years, Caroline set out on a rocky journey to find a solution. After countless cleanses and restrictive detoxes, her relief finally came in the form of a simple pantry staple: apple cider vinegar.
Driven to share the love, she gave the humble ACV a millennial makeover, turning it into a line of drinks called Applelachia. We spoke to Caroline about pioneering a niche market and staying well while running a wellness business.
What inspired you to start Applelachia in the first place?
I suffered from IBS and Candida since high school. I was pretty much ruled by sugar cravings and bloating, no matter what I ate. As I grew older, I did all this research on natural remedies. I tried every diet under the sun – vegan, paleo, gluten-free – and I did a lot of parasite and candida cleanses. I even fasted for 14 days – I had no food, just Chinese medicine. They all worked intermittently, but when I stopped whatever program I was on, the symptoms, the sugar cravings and the bloating just came back. Over time, I developed an unhealthy obsession with cleansing and detoxing. You can imagine how socially debilitating that would be. I just wanted to do normal things like going out on Friday night and having wine with the girls.
Eventually, I was just sick of being sick. I decided to simplify my approach. I told myself I was going to stop being obsessed with what I can and cannot eat and I was just going to drink ACV every day diluted in water. I did it every day for three weeks. At the end, I realised that I had lost weight when I wasn’t even trying to, I wasn’t bloated, I wasn’t craving sugar and the dark circles which I had to cover with so much concealer were close to gone. I thought, oh my Buddha it has actually done something! I didn’t even have to change my diet.
I then went looking for an ACV drink in the health food stores, but there was no sparkling drink with ACV. So, I started experimenting in my kitchen. I eventually came up with the concoction and I realised that there was a market I needed to tap into so others could reap the same benefits. And that’s how Applelachia was born!
How long did it take from when you first discovered the impact of ACV on your body to actually getting your product on shelves?
It was around six to eight months. I was just so determined because there wasn’t a product like it out there. I also took advantage of having basic graphic design skills that allowed me to mock up labels and do my branding. It was all pretty simple, but that definitely helped me get it off the ground quicker.
What was the process like of turning your passion project into a full-time job?
I had no business experience so the trials and tribulations along the way were plenty. I started out with less than 7K in personal savings, using a basic home bottling system. My first setup included a SodaStream, some measuring spoons and a borrowed blender from Big W. It was all done by hand – the filling, the capping and applying the labels using a ruler to make sure they were even. I packed the bottles in some VB cartons I took from my neighbours. From there, I went cold door-knocking and eventually, I got picked up at one of the bigger health food stores here in Melbourne. I was then able to get into another health food store and then I was picked up by a distributor. Since then, it has organically grown.
As it grew, I started slowly upgrading my kitchen setup. I upgraded from a SodaStream to a keg. After many nights of staying up till 4am doing the bottling to fulfill orders, I realised I urgently needed to find someone to do this for me. From the home kitchen, I moved to a microbrewery, to a bigger microbrewery to where I am now, which is a modern bottling facility producing over 15,000 bottles per flavour at a time.
I imagine that running a popular health business can ironically impact on your health. How do you stay well while running a wellness business?
Yeah, that’s definitely true! My morning ritual and unsurprisingly my beloved ACV is my go-to. I’ve been diluting it with water and drinking it every day since I started the business, and I can’t say I’ve been sick since.
Running a business makes it super important to have time for self care and solitude. Upon rising, I drink my morning ACV water, meditate, do some journaling followed by half an hour of bodyweight strength work and stretches. Afterwards I go for a power walk with my little Italian Greyhound Astral. I abstain from all social media and emails during these “me” hours. Afterwards I’m ready to tackle the world of entrepreneurship.
I’m not a yogi or a gym junkie, but I mix up my fitness by boxing with StrikeFit trainer Mark Mullan, running around The Tan and the occasional rock climb. Overall my daily ritual is my tool for staying well.
There are a lot of opinions out there about ACV and its benefits – what do you make of it all?
I’ve obviously done a lot of research. Some of the key health benefits of drinking ACV are: it lowers blood sugar levels, helps you lose weight, reduces belly fat, detoxifies the liver and boosts your immunity.
But my first hand experience is what convinces me the most. After trying everything from fasts to cleanses, I realised that the most effective thing for me long-term has been ACV. I believe it’s the easiest and simplest thing to implement into your lifestyle. Effectiveness comes from consistency, and because of this, ACV has been part of my daily ritual. It helped kill my sugar cravings and toned my digestion. However, I totally respect that different things work for different people.
It has been used for centuries for a reason and I see it as such an underrated superfood that’s easily looked past as a boring vinegar. One thing I come across is people saying ACV erodes your teeth. It certainly can if you drink it straight but when diluted with water, I’ve never experienced any issues after three years of daily consumption.
Even if you put any health benefits aside, Applelachia is just a great tasting drink, right?
Absolutely! People say it tastes naughty, but is nice (and good for you). Most people who have tried ACV either drink it straight or take a shot of it in the morning, whilst hating the taste. I personally love the flavour, but most people can’t stand the taste and smell. Applelachia is a tasty and fun way for people to reap the benefits of ACV, as opposed to dreading it.
The kombucha market is crowded, but you’ve really created your own category in the drinks space. What’s it like to pioneer this niche market?
Applelachia was the first sparkling ACV drink to enter the market in Australia. Since then, there have been other imitation products which was always bound to happen, but I say competition is fantastic! It all goes towards increasing the awareness of ACV which is deeply ingrained in my values system. The whole reason why I got into this business is because I successfully helped myself with my gut issues and I wanted to share the goodness of ACV by making my drink more accessible to others. That’s what’s driving the whole existence of the Applelachia. I’m proud of the integrity that the brand has because of that. So, it really doesn’t matter if other brands want to do the same thing.
What does a day off look like for you? Can you ever disconnect from your business?
I recently went to Bali to try and switch off, but I ended up spending majority of the time thinking about how I could get my business set up over there and trying to find a local bottler, so I can’t really switch off! To this day, I think it’s always going to be a challenge for me. It really is my life, but I don’t see this as work anyway, it’s a lifestyle.