The course of Audrey Martinez’s life changed while she trained for her first marathon at the age of 50.
The Mesa woman, who spent much of her life as a bookkeeper and became a self-proclaimed health enthusiast, was seeking a solution to her training needs and stumbled upon chia seeds as a solution.
The seeds, which are native to Central America, are hydrophilic – which means they absorb up to 12 times their weight in water.
That meant that Martinez could eat the seeds, usually in the form of a handmade bar or cookie, while on a run and gain the hydration and energy boost she needed to complete her training.
Martinez used that experience to launch her cookie company, Audrey’s Chia Cookies, which has catapulted from being sold in a few AJ’s Fine Food stores when they launched in 2017 to more than 400 retailers around the country.
The Mesa native delved into the reason she decided to give chia seeds a chance back in the day and the results she saw during her training regimen.
“I started researching the best foods for energy and I came across chia seeds. So, I started testing it during my training,” Martinez said.
“So, I’d go one week with chia, taking chia, and then one week without. And the weeks that I did, I felt so much more energized and easy-going.
“And then after a while, I started noticing the other benefits of chia, like the gut health and the hair and nails and overall feeling good and mental clarity. That’s when I kind of became obsessed with chia and I kept trying to get everyone to eat chia.”
Martinez realized that most chia products at the time came as either a peanut butter alternative or in gel form—neither of which sounded appealing.
That’s when she decided to try to bake them, aiming to create a shortbread cookie product that would be popular with people of all ages.
Martinez’s next task was finding someone to bake the product on an industrial scale and help distribute it – which was difficult as she had never worked in a commercial bakery before.
“In the beginning we didn’t think about farmers markets. We were committed to getting into grocery stores,” Martinez said. “The actual first grocery store that we got into was AJ’s Fine Foods and from there we started getting noticed by big grocery stores, not even knowing what it takes.”
Martinez recalled emailing the titans of the grocery industry, including Walmart, before her company was picked up by e-commerce giant, Vitacost.
The connection to the Kroger-owned online retailer got Martinez on the map, with several other national, and even international retailers soon picking up her packaged cookie products, from Fry’s to Sprouts and Whole Foods.
“We basically went from contacting people to having them contacting us. It’s amazing,” Martinez said. “Now we’re getting into hospitals, we’re in airports, we’re getting into convenience stores, we’re going to start going into offices.”
Martinez’s goal of-late has been to give back to the community that raised her, dedicating much of her time to helping several local nonprofits.
Her main philanthropic mission has been to assist the Girls on the Run chapters of Maricopa and Pinal Counties, running alongside the organization’s members, while also providing cookies for their events.
Martinez believes the program, which uses running to teach young women life lessons that aim to inspire them to reach their fullest potential, is vital right now, as it gives children a way to stay motivated and healthy.
“When they first contacted me, they wanted to know if I would donate samples for one of their projects, and I thought to myself, ‘this is awesome’,” she said.
“They mentor young girls to grow up to be healthy and I just really like that because they use running in a way to build confidence and stay in shape, and it just resonated with me.
“So, I sponsored a girl and ran with her and I’m getting more and more involved with them. It’s a charity I believe in and I just love it.”
Martinez looks back at the last few years as a whirlwind that’s been a blessing in the truest sense, achieving something she never thought possible.
She’s thrilled with the growth of her chia seed cookies and the way the public has bought into the vision she had when she launched the product, sharing a sense of disbelief at how the last half-decade has unfolded.
“It’s funny how doors start to open,” Martinez said. “People will ask me, ‘how did you do that?’ and I don’t even know how to describe it … It’s amazing. I frequently think to myself, ‘somebody pinch me.’ It’s been a great journey. It’s exciting.”