As we travel about the country, we are always searching for new kombucha brewers and anxiously tasting new flavor combinations. One vendor called us “kombucha hunters” which seemed to perfectly sum up our interest in kombucha — so it stuck.
Most recently our travels have been predominantly in the United States. Since we have been intrigued by kombucha for several years, we wanted to share our overview of the changes we have observed in the landscape of kombucha.
Here are our current observations:
Kombucha started in many communities with vendors at farmers markets. As these vendors grow, they get into local stores or open a taproom. Think Panacea Brewing in Wilmington, NC (thankfully, they survived the hurricane), going from two markets to a taproom. Recent visits to the Hollywood Farmers Market and Santa Monica Farmers Market were surprising in that there were no kombucha vendors at either market. What that tells us, though LA is a very progressive market, is that kombucha is part of the local lifestyle and available beyond farmers market and similar outlets. Given that it is now available at Starbucks, that trend will probably continue. That doesn’t mean new vendors won’t start at local markets. Once such market vendor is Sanctuary Kombucha, in Round Rock, TX. They sell their apothecary goods as well as food products at the Wolf Ranch Farmers Market on Saturdays in Georgetown, TX.
Geographically, as we work on updating our directory, the number of brewers is growing. The map had many gaps when we first started two years ago and some states had no vendors at all. But these market opportunities are beginning to be met. A notable example is the new brewer, BareBucha available on a truck, in Waco, TX. Also, Phoenix, AZ had no local brewer until All About the Booch opened. It is exciting to see small business people with a passion for health jump into the market. It will continue to be, in most cases, a small market product given the challenges of producing and transporting kombucha while maintaining quality.
We cannot ignore the fact that big beer vendors are seeing the benefit of adding kombucha to their beverage lineups. The purchase of Clearly Kombucha by Molson Coors is a good example where the distribution network of a beer vendor is perfect for expansion. The challenge is successfully transporting a refrigerated beverage in some parts of the country with excessive heat. Bottling kombucha in cans will help address some of the transport issues. It also will broaden the market opportunities, allowing it to go to the beach, boating and other outdoor activities where glass is forbidden.
Existing brewers are adding new blends and varieties, including drinking vinegars, shrubs, and kefirs to name a few. Live Soda, here in Austin, TX, has several offerings in its product line after starting with kombucha. GT’s has added kefirs and coconut yogurts to its offerings. The kimchi flavor kefir is a definitely unique (and delicious) flavor offering. GT’s is fueling its growth by placing local brand ambassadors promoting their products in select parts of the US.
Alcohol content continues to be an issue for kombucha brewers. Controlling the quantity of alcohol in a kombucha requires careful management of the production process. One way to deal with that is to sell hard kombucha. Kyla Kombucha is a hard kombucha with two flavors. The alcohol content is 6.5% and adds kombucha to a range of alcoholic beverage offerings. We first saw it in Southern California (of course) and then happened to be in the mothership Whole Foods location the day it launched in Texas. There will likely be more entrants in to this market opportunity. We have noted that various states label kombucha differently when they contain more alcohol. We have seen a black label for some GT’s products in Florida that specifies higher alcohol content.
Millennials, aren’t they great? They drink kombucha with their meals, as their all day beverage and seek it out on tap in restaurants. DIY kits are now readily available in natural food stores, home brewing stores and online. When we first started brewing six years ago, it took a long time to find a starter kit at Wheatsville Coop in Austin. Now, that store has three flavors of kombucha on tap. We recently purchased a starter kit for our millennial, an avid kombucha drinker. She placed the first batch on the shelf next to a Sonos speaker, just above the vintage vinyl collection. Not sure if it was the music, or the light, or the good feeling of being in Southern California — but the brew was perfect and better than any of our recent ones.
Kombucha will continue to find acceptance in the mainstream grocery store as more people become exposed to it. In many outlets, it still requires a scavenger hunt to find where it is located, although many stores are beginning to have a cooler dedicated to kombucha offerings. First Starbucks, What’s next? 7-11?
To conclude, those are our current thoughts and observations from the road as we continue our hunt. Follow our travels on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Please share with your thoughts and ideas.
Good news for the kombucha industry—it’s a hit with millennials.
Bravo’s Alesandra Dubin checked in from the annual Coachella music and all-things-cool fest to say that the kombucha bar was one of the best food-related things she found at the California event.
Durbin writes: Maybe it’s the L.A. girl in me, but I just love me some kombucha — nothing makes me feel more refreshed and detoxified than a swig of the stuff, even if most of the benefit is psychological. This year’s new curated on-site program featuring kombucha sommeliers, and I was pretty psyched to try some of the brews made just for the festival.
Here in Austin, as this article from the Baylor Lariat points out, we have about four or five kombucha brewers, but poor Waco (96 miles north of Texas’ capital) was probiotic beverage free until the launch of Bare Bucha. Sold from a van that makes its way around town to various markets, Bare Bucha also can be found at some local store.
“We are the only people in Waco who make our kombucha here, and sell it here,” Kelly Doolittle, manager of operations at Bare Bucha said in a recent interview. “There are several Austin companies that sell it here; Austin has at least five to six big companies that all sell nationwide.”
Doolittle goes on to expand on the claim that everything is bigger in Texas—including kombucha: “Because of Austin, [the state of] Texas is one of the biggest consumers and sellers of kombucha in the United States,” Doolittle said. “There’s a market for kombucha here, and we’re not necessarily trying to create it, but strengthen it. There are a lot of people who are adventurous, who are into this health-type stuff. Even if they don’t know what kombucha is, they’re very willing to try it.”
Perhaps it’s the influence of its new master, Amazon, but Whole Foods released some data that shows what its top sellers are in various regions.
In the Midwest (as tabulated from a store in Cincinnati), Live Soda (a probiotic beverage) is listed as an “up and comer.”
In the Northeast (as tabulated from a store in Piscataway, N.J.), KeVita Master Brew Kombucha is a top-selling beverage.
In the Northwest (as tabulated from a store in Whitefish, MT), GT’s Kombucha takes the top two spots followed by KeVita Apple Cider Vinegar Tonic Elderberry.
In the Southwest (as tabulated from a store in Sierra, AZ), the top up and comer is Wild Tonic Kombucha, on tap in the store.
In the West (as tabulated from a store in Concord, CA), GT’s Kombucha came in second in the beverage category.
From our best of Twitter:
You must love this Tweet from Wild Kombucha
Time flies when you are attempting to sample every kombucha flavor in the world. And, also to meet every brewer in the world.
For the past six years, after adding kombucha to our diet to fulfill the need for more alkalinity, the journey that led us to this website (especially in the recent relaunch) has been more than we ever expected. We build our travel around how many brewers can we visit; what supermarkets and local grocers are carrying kombucha (it’s a way of finding cool, new brands) and what new trends are emerging based on kombucha that makes its way to farmers markets and small warehouses tucked away off a bustling freeway.
In 2017, we sampled kombucha, Naturia, in Warsaw at a natural food store a few blocks from our hotel by the central train station. We then brought a starter kit to our Workaway host who lives on a farm south of Gdansk. On that same trip, we then flew to Berlin for the express purpose of meeting master brewer Ted (Tadeusz Zagrabinski) at his restaurant/brewery/mad food scientist workshop, Café Barbucha. Additionally, we came across some local German brands (such as Carpe Diem from the folks behind Red Bull) with the growing number of Berlin supermarkets carrying vegan food and beverages. BTW, we will be posting our video interview with Ted in the next week.
Earlier that year, our voyage of all things probiotic beverage took us to the Southeastern part of the U.S. In Wilmington, N.C., we met the founders of Panacea Brewing and later that same trip we came across Dalia Sofia, a small brewer in South Carolina.
On each of these trips, we visit supermarkets big and small where we come across brands new to us, such as Big Easy Bucha, Bucha, Simple Truth, Lenny Boy, and more. It is through these journeys that we learn first hand the differences in taste and brewing method. We take in the thought behind various approaches—long brewing time, short secondary brews, unusual teas and flavorings, and so on. It has made us even more dedicated to our mission of covering the world of kombucha with spirit and insight. We are also intrigued by innovative sales strategies, from self-serve on tap in grocery stores to unmanned storefronts with kombucha and jun taps (such as SOMA in Portland, OR.)
Stay tuned for more info on past and future journeys. We hope to meet every brewer in the U.S. and abroad.