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.
Starbucks is going to start selling their own brand of kombucha, the trendy fermented tea beverage. A company spokesperson commented, “Since we’re already overcharging for burnt coffee, expensive, moldy tea didn’t seem like much of a stretch.”
Been a while since we have been on the daily beat, but here goes with a quick update:
I never remember the difference between horizontal and vertical integration, but Happy Kombucha, based in the U.K. obviously does. This company understands that the market is flooded with kombucha brewers, so they are making its mark as a supplier of all things fermented. This means that Happy will be providing supplies and equipment to home brewers and fermenters, in addition to supplying commercial brewers. From the tools to make fermented vegetables to kefir, if it is related to this healthy brand of eating, they have it.
A spokesperson for Happy Kombucha told Digital Journal they are now offering their wares at sale prices to stimulate interest in this popular trend: “Here at happy Kombucha we love to hold sales where possible, and this sale has definitely been incredibly popular. The fermenters available on our website are all incredibly high quality allowing for people to make their very own perfect fermented foods and are long lasting too. Anyone requiring more information or interested in purchasing fermenting equipment and the lowest possible prices should visit our website today.”
Happy Kombucha also sells the popular UK kombucha brand Love Kombucha. A five-pack of mixed flavors go for 12.25 GBP ($16.14).
I have no intention of ever moving to Buffalo, but it sure is tempting when a developer called The Barrell Factory—a new loft community in the city’s Old First ward–is touting the eateries and bars in the new development and one of the pillars happens to be Snowy Owl Kombucha.
Snowy Owl won “best tasting station” in 2017 Best of WNY competition. (That’s Western New York, FYI). Current flavors include Tart Cherry Coconut and Strawberry Lemonade.
The U.S. is not alone in its inability to develop proper uniform regulations for acceptable alcohol levels in kombucha. The issue is not setting guidelines, but more the inability for effective enforcement and monitoring. One brewer in Australia (who goes to great lengths to keep his alcohol levels low) maintains the government needs to do random checks on kombucha for sale in retail.
Jeff Low, a brewer in New South Wales told ABC News in Australia that Food Standards Australia and New Zealand need to be more proactive in its monitoring. “[They need] testing for alcohol, testing for probiotic, making sure it’s still alive, that it is a living product and it’s not pasteurized.”
Here are a few Tweets worth a second look:
A while back, we commented that the commercial kombucha industry would likely face a period of consolidation and acquisitions. To be honest, both of those trends have been slow to materialize for several reasons that range from issues that include government regulations and market fragmentation.
Clearly Kombucha, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, moves the acquisition needle after being purchased by Molson Coors, brewers of such brands as Carling, Blue Moon, Coors and Molson (of course). The purchase was led by the company’s TAP Ventures group which is charged with expanding its overall line to include more brewed, fermented and distilled products.
According to a story in BevNET, “The TAP Ventures team has been looking into opportunities in the kombucha space for the past year and identified Clearly Kombucha as an attractive company based on the growth of the health and wellness category, as well as the strength and expertise of the Clearly Kombucha team,” a Molson Coors spokesman wrote in an email to BevNET.
A few interesting points to consider:
Molson Coors will provide Clearly Kombucha will the opportunity for greater distribution. But, as the story points out, the company’s beer distributor clients will have the option to carry the kombucha line or pass. It raises the question whether fermented beverages fit the profile of large beer distributors and larger retailers such as BevMo and Total Wine and More.
The need for refrigeration in both transport and storage/display could pose an issue, especially for beer distributors.
One of the reasons that many brands have not expanded is the lack of control that happens when the brewing process takes place at remote or partner facilities. Will Clearly Kombucha be brewed at its current location or move to some of Molson Coors production sites?
A piece in Pop Sugar debates the health merits of kombucha. Yes, there are millions of probiotics that add to the beneficial ones already found in the digestive tract. The fact of the matter is, that if it helps your body and digestive system stay healthy and balanced, and you enjoy drinking it, then you should enjoy it. Contrarians believe there is no scientific proof that long-term drinking of kombucha aids overall health conditions.
The same health debate exists for coffee — good for you or cancer-causing. For tea, fans weigh the value of green vs. black and hot vs. cold. Is there a magic formula for any of these beverages?
As more producers with health-inspired offerings, enter the market and are creative with their flavor blending –(for example, Health-Ade jalapeno-kiwi-cucumber or Caboost Kombucha’s hibiscus sangria) more consumers will be tempted to try it. Social media buzz and clever marketing campaigns will also begin to take hold and reach millennial consumers. And, as brewers also experiment with packaging, cans (such as Brew Dr.), bottle, flip top, the market will organically evolve and become a competitor to other lifestyle-branded drinks.
We’re a day late, but not a drink short, as we find a great recipe for making margaritas for Cinco de Mayo using kombucha. (Heck, they sound good for any day).
This combo from the music pub Paste Magazine adds a nice touch by adding a probiotic chia seed. Not sure what it does to enhance the result, but it makes the adult beverage a bit healthier.
There are other recipes that all sound like a fun tribute to the Mexican holiday that commemorates our neighbors to the south, holding off the French who were trying to support the South during the Civil War. Look it up.
There’s nothing like an endorsement from the Mayo Clinic to get people to pay attention.
In the Rochester (MN) City Newspaper, there’s a piece about Katboocha, a kombucha produced by Kat Schwarz which is available at Fifth Frame Brewery and other locations in the area that Mayo calls home. In the article, there’s a comment from the renown medical center that says:
“…there is evidence to suggest that drinking kombucha may produce similar effects to taking probiotic supplements, including improved digestion and immune function.” Broadly applied, the comment can refer to kombucha but also to other probiotic beverages (Jun, for example) and foods such as pickles and sauerkraut.
Schwarz pointed to kombucha being favored by millennials because of its appeal as an alternative to heavy alcoholic beverages. “Young people are thinking more about what they’re putting in their bodies,” Schwarz said in the article. “They want it to be something special.”
Speaking of recipes and uses for kombucha, here’s 61-year-old Abha Appasamy, an Indian woman who uses kombucha to make a special hummus. She sells her fermented version of the popular dish by adding liquid from her fermented sauerkraut to the chickpeas for an up-to-date version of this creamy delight.
Appasamy sells her line of kombucha and other one-offs after feedback and interest from fans of her products on Facebook.
“I just wanted to see what sauerkraut juice (fermented for six weeks) added to the hummus might taste like. But then everybody who tried it seemed to love it,” she said in an interview with Indian Express.
Via Twitter, here’s a video post from the BBC about how to make kombucha as well as the reaction from a few folks about whether they fancied this probiotic beverage.
Whether it is a question about a food processor or a probiotic beverage, it’s heartening to know that a company’s customer service is alive and well. And, more than that, listening to its customers.
In the case of GT’s Kombucha, the California company not only is listening, it is responding to issues and questions related to its beverage. For a national brand that is often in the spotlight (sometimes in less than a positive way), a quick answer to a simple question makes it close to a case study in the lost art of customer interaction.
As someone who has a sensitivity to kiwi, I was disturbed (well, at least put off) by reading that GT’s has kiwi juice listed in its ingredients on the label of many of its kombuchas. So, I asked why.
Can I ask you the reason/logic for adding kiwi juice to your kombucha? It seems to be a recent ingredient.
I ask since I am allergic to kiwi and wonder how many others are.
And, less than one day later, the company responded:
Thank you for reaching out to us with your concern.
As you probably are aware, Kombucha is a living fermented tea that requires a carbohydrate source to nourish the cultivation of its probiotics. The carbohydrate can come in the form of cane sugar, honey, agave, fruit juice etc. We use kiwi fruit juice for our Enlightened Kombucha and have been for a long-time. We use kiwi juice as nutrient source for the initial fermentation of the Kombucha culture because it is a premium ingredient and mixes well with our Enlightened formula. It is consumed by the active cultures during the culturing period and virtually all consumed. We have researched that those with kiwi allergies should not have any reaction. Therefore individuals with sensitivities to kiwi should not experience any adverse reactions.
If you’re still concerned, please know that we offer our Classic Line of Kombucha that has organic sugar as the fermented ingredient.
We hope this information is helpful. Please let us know if we can further assist!
Peace & Blessings,
Some would say that such questions can be handled on a company’s Q&A Page, but I liked the personal touch. Will I go back to drinking GT’s? Well, at two for $5 at the local Sprouts, the answer is obvious.
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
Let’s start out with me clarifying that I am a kombucha sipper, not a guzzler. That said, it is interesting to see what food goes with various kombucha flavors if kombucha is your beverage of choice for the meal. For breakfast, for example, paired with our vegan breakfast tacos, I have been playing it safe, sticking to a lemon-ginger or cherry-hibiscus. If I were to expand the range of options, which way I go? Something more tangy and eye-opening, like Cayenne or Beet-Celeriac?
If we apply the traditional rules for pairing wine with food, we would have some rules to follow.
According to Karen McNeil, author of The Wine Bible, here are some pointers:
The food and wine (in this case kombucha) comes from the same place: so a taco with mango salsa could go with a tropical hibiscus kombucha
Pair delicate with delicate taste; robust with robust taste: you could do a light fizzy green tea kombucha with an fried rice entree or a cayenne-ginger with spicy schezwan noodles
Decide if you are going to mirror the taste of the food with the beverage or set up a contrast with the flavors as a juxtaposition
My takeaway from all this is that your pairing doesn’t have to be technically perfect, but ideally provide a perfect seesaw — where the drink makes you want a taste of the food and vice versa. What do kombucha brewers have to say about pairing their brews with food?
Brew Dr. Kombucha gives some specific pairings for backyard bbqs, specifying flavors for grilled meats, veggies and other grilled delights.
In addition, the owners of Happy Leaf Kombucha suggest avoiding pairing kombucha with coffee and high-acid foods, sticking with similar flavors. They suggest a fermented platter of vegetables brings out the flavor of the brew.
Valley Isle Kombucha, produced in Maui, echoes the like flavors together and adds that kombucha pairs beautifully with cheese (logical since both are fermented!). They add that sweet and sour also contrast nicely if selecting a kombucha to pair with a sweeter dessert.