Kiwis have been imbibing it since 1987, but the boss of Kiwi herbal mineral water brand Ch'i says the firm still has plenty of scope for growth.

General manager for the past two years Ray Nicholls has modernised the firm's logo and done away with the old 1980s-style chunky bottles for more slender packaging.

"Nothing had changed in the way the product was presented for at least 18 years," Nicholls said. "You have to keep evolving with the times and stay relevant."

He said the Albany firm had seen strong growth in "middle New Zealand" on the back of the rebranding, the first products of which hit the market about 12 months ago.


"It's put us in the 21st century."

He said there was still plenty of room for the brand - best known for its marketing slogan, "the drink that knows its own name" - to grow in New Zealand as its products were well distributed through supermarkets but did not have such a strong presence in dairies.

"We're focusing on improving sales in dairies, bars and food outlets," Nicholls said.

Another priority was growing exports.

Ch'i is sold in the Netherlands, Australia and Pacific Islands, and the company is currently having a go at the British market.

Nicholls said the firm, which has its products made at contract bottling facilities and employs only five staff, was also seeing good results from its recent release of a sugar-free product, which uses a natural sweetening agent derived from the stevia plant.

He said stevia was cleared for use in New Zealand and Australia only in 2008 after the United States finally gave the green light for the product's use.

Nicholls said the use of stevia had reduced the company's annual sugar use by about 20 tonnes.

Ch'i was founded by Adriaan Went, a Dutchman who established the brand in the wake of a failed foray into bottling mineral water sourced from a spring on his Waimaukufarm.

Nicholls said Went, who died about two years ago, had been too far ahead of the curve in trying to sell mineral water in the early 1980s, when most New Zealanders thought tap water was just fine.

But Ch'i quickly gained a loyal following among Kiwis and continues to do so, especially with "grown-up females".

Bars also use the drink as a cocktail ingredient.

Nicholls would not reveal the firm's turnover, but said the company - owned by a family trust - was profitable.