Most of the information found about kombucha focuses on the healthy benefits of this fizzy, probiotic tea beverage. There are some that doubt the ability to quantify these beneficial properties, hence creating a labeling controversy. But that is but one of many emerging trends in the kombucha marketplace.
In the past few weeks there have been several news items about kombucha that point to innovation and collaboration. These are popping up in such areas as creating new flavors, the concept of canned kombucha and new consumer-facing retail concepts.
One story tells that tale of a kombucha company, Inspired Brews Kombucha that has opened a brewing facility in downtown Philadelphia. The co-founder creates an interesting profile of flavors, initially starting with dessert-style flavors. In addition, there are root vegetable based flavors. Based on the season, the flavors vary but eight to 10 offerings are always available. The flavors are developed in conjunction with her co-creator located in Dallas, TX, who began as an avid home brewer. According to BevNet, Inspired Brews Kombucha networked with other entrepreneurs to launch its storefront and increase collaboration with local non-profits and businesses. The story described the background of the company and made me want to travel to Philadelphia to taste the various flavor options, many of which have Texas-inspired combinations.
Up Dog Kombucha, started by two students at Wake Forest University, was the focus of another BevNet piece. The students were producing the product on their own in two unused dorm kitchens, prior to becoming one of the startups in the university’s StartUp Lab. They represent a millennial market entry aimed at attracting and retaining college-aged students with their product – a “less vinegary, more mild and lightly fruity” version of kombucha.
Portland, OR is a city that is spawning kombucha creativity. As a story on Project NOSH indicated, “Portland is a hive of kombucha invention”, so creative kombucha concepts are a natural for Portland. Based on success in Washington State, with Kombucha Town selling cans of their brew to Trader Joe’s, the viability of canned kombucha is emerging. Canned wine and even craft beer in cans is becoming more popular as a way to transport beverages to outdoor events, or to the beach. With better canning facilities, it can provide an option to broaden the kombucha distribution as well. The challenge with kombucha is that it is a cold beverage and must be transported and stored in refrigerated trucks. Additionally, that makes it a challenge to expand the market area for a small fermentory unless it is willing to sub out its recipes and packaging to a packing plant or co-packer. Putting the kombucha in cans could help expand market opportunities.
On a recent visit to Portland, we had the opportunity to sample some of the variety of kombucha beverages available locally. One curious experience was the visit to SOMA’s new automated tasting room in the southeast part of the city. It was definitely a different way to taste and purchase some delicious probiotic brew. One delicious offering was a cold-brew coffee option, a concept just coming of age. The experience did reinforce the idea that Portland is a place for kombucha innovation and even ideas that seem a bit unusual have room to grow.