Dwayne Martens was travelling through Europe on a path of self-destruction when he says he hit rock bottom.
At the time the 21-year-old was living on an inheritance and admits he got caught up in the wrong crowd.
However, the hardship was the turning point in Marten’s life – the catalyst for what is now a multi-million dollar company.
Amazonia, founded by Martens in 2009, offers a range of raw and organic food products including Açaí, supplements and protein.
Headquartered on the Gold Coast, the business employs around 40 staff and has a presence in more than 10 countries around the globe.
While Martens says the industry of strange and spectacular fruit was not one he contemplated working in, he says he always had a flair for entrepreneurship.
“I have got a saying that goes ‘if you are really looking to do what you want to do; if you really want to find your purpose in life, you have to go back to when you were a child’,” he says.
“When I was a child I would play video games like Civilisation and I would build empires through strategy. And that relates to business – I love strategy and growing a business and thinking outside the box.”
And that is exactly what he has done with Amazonia, with the business priding itself on pioneering and revolutionising the health food space.
Although, it has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build the business into the empire it is today.
Rewind to the beginning and Martens started by opening several portable juice bars and stalls at festivals and even sold his products in nightclubs.
After garnering grassroots support for the business, his big break came with the freeze-dried version of his most popular product.
“We went from zero to hero very quickly and all of a sudden our Açaí was in 300-400 stores,” he says.
“But, it was definitely built on a fad and that died down. That deterioration of interest, together with the Brisbane floods which wiped away the majority of our stock created a perfect storm for us – we went from zero to hero, back to zero pretty quickly.”
Martens admits it was difficult watching four years of hard work and a million-dollar company be washed away by Mother Nature, however he refused to give up.
Amazonia was again built from the ground up, and it seems that Martens’ faith and resilience has proved worthwhile with the business now selling in excess of 700,000 acai bowls every month to more than 1500 Australian retailers.
It also distributes more than 10,000 certified organic supplements month on month and boasts more than 30 natural supplements for the growing number of people looking for non-synthetic forms of supplementation and digestible proteins.
While the business has taken out a number of national awards including Telstra Business of the Year in 2015 and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016, Martens says the highlight of the business has been working with local communities to create sustainable agriculture.
Amazonia directly impacts more than 10,000 families and 10,000 acres of natural land and ecosystems around the world.
From Amazonia’s Açaí, coconuts, freeze dried organic Fair Trade green coffee bean and Ecuadorian cacao, to the sea minerals and superfoods of the supplements range, the business practices the concept of sustainability from source to consumer.
Amazonia also uses recycled materials and vegetable inks for its brochures and packaging.
Martens says the business is dedicated to assisting global environmental projects and gives back to local communities around the world.
He explains that there is a huge percentage of communities living on less than $1 a day – communities in the Amazon and rainforest. Amazonia links up with these local communities to hand-harvest berries.
“The essential essence of what we are doing is offering more financial incentive to keep trees standing,” he says.
“This is about the preservation of natural rainforest – we want to keep these rainforests standing so they won’t go and log it for soil and cattle; the communities will keep it standing and get a good ongoing income just to harvest the natural vegetation.”
Martens says Açaí is one of the most abundant naturally grown foods in the world – it grows on 6.1 million acres throughout the Amazon.
“What we are doing is really revolutionary in the preservation of rainforests – the more Açaí we sell, the more rainforest we get to keep standing,” says Martens.
In addition, Amazonia’s purple rice is sourced from a Buddhist family overseas while its coconuts are hand-harvested in Vietnam.
Martens says he is proud of the growth of the company, although the ultimate vision is to become a global powerhouse while changing the world.
“First and foremost we want to see more Australians getting their recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals through actual food,” he says.
“Seven per cent of Australian adults get their recommended daily intake of fruit and veg; so most of us don’t get enough nutrients, vitamins and minerals – we want to change this.
“We also want to build a sustainable movement – we want to plant trees and we want to build a dependency on human consumption of tree-based foods because more tree-based foods mean more trees.”
Quick-fire round with Dwayne Martens…
Why the Gold Coast?
The Gold Coast really epitomises Amazonia as a brand. There is a really strong sustainable health industry in the city and a really good number of health food businesses in the Queensland region.
Also, people are no longer looking for that corporate, city-type business destination. We have a business minutes from the beach and for our employees it is very important. Living and working by the beach and having the sun on your face every day leads to a happy existence – if our employees are happy, then I am happy.
What is your best piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
If you are not in the game you have to get in the game because things don’t happen quickly in business. Millennials, me being one of them, want things to happen automatically and we want to change the world over night. But good things take time, love takes time and a business takes time. Just get in the game and enjoy the journey.
Is the Gold Coast a leader in the health food industry?
The Gold Coast is quite advanced in terms of its health food industry compared to the rest of the country. Queensland in general is an early adopter and that influenced where we started our business. If we are in the early-adopter state then we can see if something goes right or wrong earlier rather than later. Sydney takes a bit more time to get to the customers and get people really going for the product, same with Melbourne.