Meet the entrepreneurial duo behind La Holista – a holistic health & wellness company based in Saigon, Vietnam. We discover where it all started and how La Holista transitioned from a mere hobby into the thriving community.
Meet the founder of La Holista, Chiara Squinzi, and Pascale Fioretti, an experienced hospitality professional and healthy living advocate. Together, the entrepreneurial duo are the driving forces behind La Holista, a Holistic Health & Wellness company based in Saigon, Vietnam. We discover where it all started and how La Holista transitioned from a mere hobby into the thriving community that it is now.
The industrial lifestyle in Saigon has resulted in the dawn of fast food and convenience stores, which provide ready-to-go, pre-packaged meals that require no effort and, sadly, little nutritional values. Sprouting from Chiara’s hobby back in 2014, La Holista is a start-up company specialising in pre-packaged plant-based foods to encourage a healthy lifestyle. From selling tasty brownie bites made of sweet potatoes and chocolate energy balls made of nuts, to organised cooking classes, plant-based cooking workshops, and outdoor activities such as hikes around Saigon, La Holista has nurtured a healthy community in Vietnam where everyone strives to become the healthiest versions of themselves through each other’s guidance.
Without any intention of starting a food business and through a spark of interest, Chiara decided to write a cookbook with the recipes she collected and fine-tuned. One year later, she met Pascale Fioretti at a farmer’s market and the two clicked instantly for their mutual love for healthy foods and body wellness. As a vegan, Pascale spent 13 years working in restaurants and hotels, challenging her core belief against animal cruelty. She has found the true calling of her life after meeting Chiara and together, they formed La Holista with the hope of providing organic, plant-based foods and health coaching activities for people in need. Along with their inspiring energy, Chiara and Pascale also shared with us a few tips on how to start a healthy lifestyle.
How did the business begin?
We started by selling our products at The Organik Shop in Thao Dien, Saigon. They have been in the organic food business for a long time and they have helped us out a lot in promoting our brand. The majority of our clients are from the expat community in Saigon who have participated in the workshops and need guidance for their fitness and meal plans. We would want to reach out more to the local customers in Saigon but find it can difficult due to financial and cultural differences.
How have your background and various skills helped to shape La Holista into what it currently is?
Pascale: We are a well-balanced team.Chiara is good at cooking, so she’s our main chef and recipe creator. I was working as a Business Support Manager for hotels and restaurants so I’m in charge of the business side by analyse what is going right and wrong. Our third business partner, Rob West is a fitness coach so he is in charge of body wellness and physical exercises.
At the same time, Chiara has an amazing network who are professional and passionate do and we help and support each other to expand our client base.
Chiara: When Pascale joined in the beginning, we only had 4 sales points in our team. Now we have 31!
What challenges have you faced since starting La Holista?
The fact that we are both expats starting a business in Vietnam causes us many troubles dealing with the paperwork. We have had a hard time getting a business license for La Holista since we are not familiar with the government policy and the language barrier.
However, the current challenge we are facing is the packaging. Ideally, we want to use biodegradable packages that are harmless to the environment but since we are only a small business, we still haven’t managed to afford the cost for that. Sometimes, we receive complaints from customers about our plastic pouches which we are definitely not happy about. That’s why we are pushing ourselves so hard to expand the business and be able to use nature-friendly material for packaging.
Where do you find ingredients for La Holista foods? Do you experience any difficulties in terms of ensuring regular supply?
Most of our ingredients are locally sourced. We mainly use nuts and oats for our recipes because they are wholesome ingredients and less likely to contain pesticide. Vietnam has a large supply of cashewnuts (which is perfect for us). And just like we have mentioned before, it is important that we maintain a large network of trustable partners because that gives us more options in resources.
What message do you hope to convey to La Holista readers and clients?
Out tagline is, being healthy is a privilege, not an effort. Normally, most people don’t take good care of their health until they get sick and it’s too late. Our goal is to develop a community where we can raise awareness about healthy eating and teach people how to lead a healthy lifestyle. There are always excuses to have when it comes to staying healthy but it’s a matter of priorities. Therefore, we hope that through our work, we can encourage people to put their health on top of their priorities list so people start changing their lifestyle habits, especially towards food.
We understand that life in a big city like Saigon can be quite hectic and most people don’t have time to prepare their own meals. That’s why La Holista is there to provide healthy, nutritious snacks and recipes that are available for everyone to try. We also offer health coaching service and fitness training for our customers because exercising is also an important part of a healthy lifestyle. After all, we believe that if you are determined and put your mind into it, you will be capable of doing anything.
Any advice for people who want to establish healthier eating habits and exercise routines?
First things first, exercise in the morning right after you wake up. This will boost your mood and energy to help you prepare for a long day ahead. Showering after exercising is highly recommended as it will refresh your body and keep you awake. Morning exercises can also increase your appetite and help you enjoy your meals better.
Start implementing at least one healthy meal a week or a day if possible. Try to avoid processed foods, animal-based foods (such as meat, dairy and cheese) and incorporate more plant-based foods in your meals, such as nuts and vegetables. Stick to fresh, traditional local ingredients instead of canned and imported goods as there are a lot of preservatives and artificial colors, which are bad for your health.
Start changing your habits step by step and try not to take on so many things at once. For example, you can start with a short exercising routine every morning, around 10 to 15 minutes. Keep on doing that for a whole month for it to become a habit of yours and then increase the exercise duration. The same applies to your diet plan as well. Start small until you are comfortable doing it as a routine, then add the next.
Last but not least, try to work with a professional health or fitness coach because you will never know how much they will make your health journey easier. They are the people who have been trained in the field and know exactly what they are doing. Professional health coaches will help you set a goal and keep you accountable, as well as provide the tools to help you reach your goal.
Do you have any tips on how to make organic/vegan food more tasty without using ingredients such as dairy, sugar, and MSG?
The substitutions for eggs, milk, etc. are actually very easy to find and cheap. For example, you can substitute eggs with a baking powder mixture, milk with water and butter with coconut or olive oil. Most recipes can be found on the Internet and from well-known health bloggers. La Holista also hosts a lot of cooking classes that you can join and learn how to cook healthy meals yourself. Besides using organic and wholesome ingredients, good spices also make a big difference. Using natural spices (basil, thymes, rosemary, tamarind) can completely change the flavour of your dish and they are also scientifically proven to be good for your health.
What are your hopes for La Holista for the future?
For the two of us, La Holista is not just a job, but our life passion. We are proud of our progress so far, considering that we started from the bottom ground with no money and zero investment. We would definitely promote our brand more overseas since we already have a large number of people outside Saigon looking to buy our products. We are planning to branch out to Hanoi and if possible to other Southeast Asian countries in the region, specifically Singapore and Hong Kong.
Finally, what are you favourite healthy restaurants in Saigon?
Healthy Farm: Serving fine vegan hot pot meals. It’s my (Chiara’s) favourite Hot Pot place where you can pick your veggies and ingredients to make your own healthy hot pot. No meat at all—completely vegan.
Khai Minh: I (Pascale) feel like I can eat more from the menu here and it’s more diverse. The food is also lighter than Healthy Farm as far as I’m concerned.
Prem Vegetarian Bistro: Really good vegetarian/vegan foods. Lovely interior and good service as well.