A Coles shopper has shared her shock after discovering a product “never seen sold” in Australia is now stocked on the retailer’s shelves.
Grace Korovata, a Fijian woman living in country NSW, spotted packets of kava – a native drink which originates from the Pacific Islands – during a recent supermarket trip, describing its presence in aisles as “crazy”.
Kava has known sedative effects on the body, but the “humble root with therapeutic” properties was banned from being brought into Australia in 2007 after it was classified as a prohibited import substance.
However, the ban on kava plants was lifted in January 2022, and shortly after Coles began selling Fiji Kava – the $16 product Grace stumbled across while grocery shopping.
“I’ve never seen kava sold like this ever, you usually have to buy it by the kilo in Fiji, now you can buy 50 grams in Coles,” she explains in a viral video, audibly shocked by its presence in a national Australian supermarket.
After reading out the instructions on the packet, which state kava should be consumed by the teaspoon after being stirred into water, Grace continues: “That is ridiculous. That’s crazy.”
For generations kava has held a great traditional significance for residents of the Pacific, including Fiji, where it is used daily by some and on special events including weddings, marriages and funerals.
It’s this cultural importance that prompted Grace to share a video on TikTok, telling news.com.au the product “saddened” her.
“It don’t sit right with me and if you see in my comment section a lot of people have the same views as I have on its cultural significance, how it’s supposed to be served, etc – particularly other Fijians/Pacific Islanders who understand kava,” she said.
“It’s not the product itself that I have an issue with, it’s actually quite nice, however it saddens me to see kava, a cultural device used within our communities, commercialised and watered down to make a profit and cater to an audience it’s simply not meant for.”
Many supported this viewpoint on Grace’s video, which has been viewed over 1.6 million times since it was shared on Tuesday.
But there were others who said Fiji Kava was created by a Fijian who now lives in Brisbane, citing it creates a great income for the developing country.
Anthony Noble, CEO of Calmer Co, the umbrella company the brand now sits under, told news.com.au the product sold in Coles was 100 per cent Fiji sourced and made and proudly supported the local community it came from.
“Our founder is Zane Yoshida, a Fijian from Levuka, who started the company in his home country in 2013,” he said.
“We operated a processing facility and a nucleus farm on the island and recently transitioned to sourcing through a network of more than 300 kava farmers and kava farming cooperatives all around Fiji as the business has scaled up.
“We also source from a network of supply hubs around the Fiji Islands, to maintain robust supply and are the only company who buys only directly from farmers.
“This means 100 per cent of money goes to the farmer, not middlemen. We also employ around 20 people in our Fijian operations, as well as one person in the USA and six here in the Brisbane warehouse and office.”
As well as Fiji Kava, which Mr Noble said was “targeted to western consumers”, Calmer Co also owns TakiMai, a beverage for “traditional kava drinkers”.
“Grace is right in her video, the product is not one for the seasoned kava drinker, it is targeted to new customers and trying kava for the first time,” he explained.
“Sales for kava in Coles have been strong and continue to grow. It is great with juice or in a protein shake and our product in Coles is micronised instant kava for those applications.”
Despite the divide, the feedback on the product has been overwhelmingly positive, with many saying the kava was great for those who needed to “chill out”.
“I’m concerned it’s in the brekky aisle, that’s a whole heap of relaxed folks starting their work day right,” one commented.
“I tried this recently and I was KOOOOO,” another added.
However the drink has fallen flat with others.
“I saw they sold it a few days ago. Tried it. And doesn’t even cut it, in my opinion,” one said.
“Oh nah, side eye!!! Leave our kava alone,” another stated.
Kava is made by crushing the stems of the kava root and mixing it with water.
When the roots are crushed it releases a chemical known as “kavalacones”, which studies show help ease anxiety, insomnia as well as give pain relief.
A Coles spokesperson told news.com.au the Fiji Kava Root Power has been available for customers since June 2022 and has “grown in popularity over the past year”.
The supermarket has strict processes in place to comply with legislation which are set out by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
The Fiji Consulate has endorsed the partnership, stating it was “proud to support Fiji Kava’s success” after working together “on growing their product in the Australia and New Zealand markets for the past few years”.