Mezcal, once deemed the next big thing, is “radically different” in 2020. The New York Times style section explores the amount of entrepreneurs entering the craft mezcal business. Mezcal is an alcoholic drink, distilled with fermented agave. “While some bigger mezcal brands exist, most are still small-scale, with tiny outputs. Tequila production is largely industrialized, at least for the brands available in the United States, but mezcal is still the equivalent of homespun,” according to the New York Times. 

Read more (New York Times)

South Korea’s Kimchi Capital

BBC Travel “Comeback Cities” series explores Gwangju, South Korea’s 6th largest city that is considered the birthplace of kimchi. Kimchi sauces are different by store in Gwangju, differing between seasoning levels and even experience of the kimchi maker. Hooni Kim runs the New York restaurant Danji , which became the world’s first Michelin-starred Korean restaurant in 2012.  He shares “the secret ingredient to Gwangu’s culinary depth:” a regional version of jeotgal, which is a fermented seafood. Kim calls it “natural MSG,” a sauce made of “shrimp, squid, oyster, any kind of fish.” Jeotgal is a key ingredient in kimchi.

Read more (BBC Travel)


Staff at TFA were getting ready to head to Anaheim for Natural Products Expo West, the enormous spring trade show, when, Monday night, the show’s producers announced it would be postponed because of mounting concerns about the coronavirus. New Hope Network, a division of Informa PLC, said they plan to announce by mid-April a new date for the conference.

In a statement on their website, New Hope wrote that the “natural products community has made it clear it doesn’t want the show to go on.” Reports indicated attendance — forecast to approach 85,000 at Expo West, the largest natural products show in the world —  would be down by up to 60% this year. It’s been reported that more than 200 exhibitors had pulled out of the show over the last few days.

Multiple members of the TFA advisory board traveled to Anaheim this week for Expo West.

“I was surprised they postponed considering how much money this makes for them.  But it makes sense,” says Kheedim Oh, founder of Mama O’s Kimchi. “I assumed it would still be on after finding out many buyers were pulling out because I doubted they would cancel.”

Oh estimates he lost $3,000 on Expo West. Though he was able to get a last-minute refund from his Airbnb host, flights, car rentals and shipping of product were all non-refundable.

Matt Reynolds, brand manager for Bubbies Fine Foods and Cook’s All Natural Pantry, said it’s not just money lost, but time, too. Expos are resource intensive. And “it’s hard to quantify that lost lead that could’ve been a game changer.”

“This Expo’s postponement seems to be somewhat unprecedented and is still unfolding on all sides,” Reynolds says. “Expos can be great for sales leads, vendor leads, as well as for customer and broker feedback and face time. Expos can also great for identifying trends and featuring new products. At best, postponing Expo West postpones these opportunities. At worst, we lose them.”

Fred Linder, Group President of New Hope Network, said: “As with all our events, it was the intention here at Expo West in Anaheim, to follow official guidance from local authorities and to listen to the voices of the community we serve and support, in order to maximize the health of the industry.”

“Today, it is clear the majority of those voices are saying they want Expo West but not this week. And so we are being guided by that majority in postponing the show.”

The statement continues that New Hope was planning to continue with the conference this week, at the advice of local government and health authorities from the City of Anaheim. Many brands were already setting up booths on the various trade show floors Monday.

But, notes New Hope Network: “In the particular case of New Hope’s Natural Products Expo, the situation has been very different in that the show was in-flight, with production underway, when the views of the community started to diverge. Some of our partners strongly advocated continuing with the show as planned. Some of our partners wanted the show, but not now, and some just wanted a straight-forward cancellation.”

“It is now clear…that the majority of our Community want the show, but they do not want it now.”

Last week, New Hope Network sent an “Update on Coronavirus” to attendees that the show would continue. They said: “The majority of our Chinese exhibitors are unable to participate in this year’s event and a small number of companies are reducing their presence due to corporate travel policies.”

Over the last few days, though, many brand leaders and industry professionals shared please on social media for the conference to be cancelled. Food Business News said, out of 3,600 exhibitors, 200 pulled out of the conference because of fears of the virus spreading or company travel restrictions.

John Foraker, co-founder and chief executive officer of Once Upon a Farm, told Food Business News that attending Expo West “makes no business sense” as retail buyers from such companies as Amazon, Kroger, Whole Foods Market and Target have cancelled attendance.

“The retailer cancellations have been so significant for us that there is little point to go,” Foraker said. “That combined with no less reason to be concerned about the (COVID-19) health risks for employees given news this weekend. The point of Expo is to sell and build our brand. We think that is not possible now, certainly relative to all the other considerations.”

There were an estimated 85,000 attendees at this year’s Expo West, and sampling food from different brands is a major part of the trade floor experience. Daniel Lubetzky, founder and executive chairman of Kind Healthy Snacks, posted an open letter on LinkedIn as to why his company would be pulling out of the conference:

“While we are hoping that (COVID-19) will not be as damaging as the fear it is fomenting, we decided that gathering with 30,000 people from across the world inside closed quarters to try tons of food samples was probably not the most prudent path forward this week, particularly as we don’t have enough information about (COVID-19). Our team members’ health is our paramount priority.”

Sagan Schultz, CEO at plant-based functional beverage brand WellWell, shared his views as a medical doctor in an open letter on LinkedIn:

“Over the last few weeks, COVID-19 has started behaving like the once-in-a-century pandemic academics have feared,” wrote Schultz, who is also a doctor. “It has the ability to kill healthy adults at a 1-2% case fatality rate making it similar to the 1918 Spanish Flu, and it has proven to spread quite efficiently and exponentially — each infected person on average can infect 2-3 others. So far COVID-19 has caused 10x more cases than SARS in a quarter of the time.”


Unethical Fermentation Shortcuts

“All fizz and no function” declares an article on fermentation shortcuts. “The rise of fermentation has gone completely bonkers,” says Elena Deminska, founder of The London Fermentary in the UK. “Fermentation is such a huge trend right now and there are so many health-conscious consumers buying these products, but there are some brands who are trying to take shortcuts and sending products out to stores that aren’t fermented.” Digestive wellness has become mainstream, thanks in part to fermented food and drinks high concentration of vitamins and nutrients. But Deminska says fermentation is not something that can be rushed or easily picked up.

Read more (Nutra Ingredients)

Hákarl, fermented shark, is a traditional Icelandic food that has become a major draw for tourists to the country. The shark, the Greenland Shark, lives in the deepest parts of the Arctic and North Atlantic water. It’s also the longest living vertebrate on earth — its average lifespan is 272 years. The sharks are rarely caught intentionally; they’re usually a bycatch of halibut fishing.


Because Greenland sharks live in deep water pressure, the sharks are full of high concentrations of nitrogenous waste products, making their flesh toxic. So the Greenland shark must be fermented for humans to safely consume it. Meat is sliced, buried, then hung to dry in open structures for months. Consuming the meat has become a rite of passage for the bravest foodies. The fermented meat has an ammonia stench and a chewy texture.

Read more (Forbes)

A historic home in Los Angels is now an experimental kitchen, highlighting fermentation, art and design. The Schindler House hosted an event last month featuring a fermentation-based installation. Stone vessels were filled “with different combinations of soybeans, koji, barley, brown rice, citrus, salt and microbes. Several months later, the altered (mushier) contents of the containers, which had sat in the outdoor hearth of one of the house’s courtyard’s, became key ingredients in an afternoon that was part art happening and part cocktail party.” From the New York Times article: “Over the past decade, chefs and diners have been drawn to all manner of fermented produce, as well as to fermented staples like kombucha and kimchi, sourdough and cider, for their tangy flavors and presumed digestive health benefits. Perhaps surprisingly, so have artists, though for their own reasons. ”

Read more (New York Times)

“Why do some foods like chocolate, wine and cheese taste so delicious? Fermenting magically transforms their original ingredients into something more desirable. Besides upping flavor, some lactic-acid ferments, such as homemade sauerkraut, actually strengthen your immune system.”

Rebecca Wood, “Fermented Foods Strengthen Immune System

Kombucha has its first international holiday. On February 21, kombucha brewers and consumers around the world will celebrate World Kombucha Day.

Kombucha dates back over 2,000 years to 221 B.C. The fermented tea is one of the fastest growing beverages in the world. Kombucha is estimated to reach $3.5 billion in international sales by 2025, with one third of that  in U.S. sales. Hannah Crum, founder and president of Kombucha Brewers International (KBI), a non-profit trade association (and an affiliate of TFA), believes 2020 will be the decade kombucha becomes mainstream.

Educating the public, though, is the key step to making kombucha a recognized wellness drink. KBI began the World Kombucha Day initiative and is encouraging brands to host events, offer free tastings and partner with retails for in-store promotions.

Since KBI started six years ago, Crum has watched the small kombucha labels that joined KBI transform into big brands. She sees the kombucha industry growing not with big kombucha labels but with small craft brands. If consumers in small towns all over the world start purchasing kombucha, local producers will need to drive that growth, Crum adds.

“And it opens the door for all these other fermented products to come in,” Crum adds. “Drinking vinegar, shrubs, water kefir, even sauerkraut and fermented vegetables. Local brands will drive the entire fermented food and drink category.”

Below, a Q&A with Crum on World Kombucha Day and how kombucha can maintain their growth momentum. 

Question: Why a World Kombucha Day?

Hannah Crum: Kombucha’s mythological origins hearken back to 221 BC in China. The Chinese are famous for their quest for longevity with their elixirs. It’s been part of the story of kombucha, this mythological origin. So 221, at least in the American system, translates to February 21st. What better year to launch it than in 2020.

Why World Kombucha Day? To celebrate the culture of kombucha. Obviously drinking a commercial brand is how I first heard about kombucha. It’s how most people first experience kombucha, even though home brewing has been around for a long time. It’s a way for people to raise awareness about kombucha, to be excited about what it is, to honor its Asian roots, and to really help more people know about kombucha.

This is the decade when kombucha becomes a household name. Launching this world kombucha day in 2020, in this decade, is that first step towards building excitement around kombucha. Not just the drink being trendy, because i think it’s going to last longer than a trend. It’s getting more people to wake up to how wonderful this product is. 

We think of kombucha as a gateway. Kombucha isn’t an end point. We don’t stop at kombucha, we start with kombucha. From kombucha, people move to other products in the fermentation association, now it’s sauerkraut and kimchi and kvas and water kefir. I don’t even think we could see this many water kefir brands starting to emerge if kombucha didn’t exist. 

Q: Tell me the process of making World Kombucha Day an official “day.”

HC: The process is pretty straight forward and basically just means coming up with the day and promoting it. We have applied to some of the calendars and apparently if you pay enough money, you can even make it onto the National Holiday Calendar.

Q: What are you hoping brands will do to celebrate World Kombucha Day? 

HC: I’m hoping they’ll elevate kombucha into the consciousness. That can be providing education, and education could come in the form of free samples or offering a promo at your favorite store. It’s on a Friday this year — if you happen to be at a farmers market or you happen to have a tap room, why not host an education event. 

Really it’s this opportunity to engage with your community, do this outreach and to help people understand what kombucha is. Because so many people still either haven’t heard the word, they don’t know what it is, they’re afraid of it, they’ve tried it and think its weird, whatever it is, just giving them another touch point, another opportunity to hear about it, another opportunity to try it without having to pay $3-5 per bottle in order to see what it’s like. 

People can add events to our World Kombucha Day calendar based on region. This is free, open to all kombucha producers, not just KBI members. While World Kombucha Day is a KBI initiative, it’s really about the category of kombucha. 

Q: Tell me more about KBI origins. Why did you create KBI ?

HC: It started with our business, Kombucha Kamp, and our mission: changing the world, one gut at a time. 

KBI also comes from looking at our culture which works in symbiosis. We’ve always understood we can’t do this alone, we have to do this in partnership, we have to be in community. Changing the gut one world at a time, knowing we can’t do it alone, and how do most people find out about kombucha? Again it’s through a commercial product.

In 2010, we had that incident where Whole Foods took all the kombucha off of store shelves and it really creates a lot of fear. It’s a trauma point that we’ve continued to have to work through together. That is what inspired us to come together and really make this work.

We know: people don’t really understand what kombucha is. When you don’t know about something, you’re afraid of it. People worry “I’m going to get bad bacteria in my brew and harm myself.” Well, that’s highly unlikely, just like any fermented food. The only reason they still exist today is because they’ve always been so incredibly safe to make and pass around or they would have been on the compost heap of history ages ago.

So knowing that there was a need, we have a unique roll. We’ve already been doing some cross-category marketing. We did a 30-day kombucha challenge, we did a New Years re-evolution, which were all designed to raise awareness about the category.

So I nominated myself to head KBI and Alex (Crum’s husband), God love him, supported me. We started with KKon (KombuchaKon) in 2014, and here we are about to have our 7th annual show, our 5th annual trade show. We’ve grown from 40 members to over 300. We’ve always been international though, which is unique. We’ve always had people from around the world participating with us.

Q: Is the U.S. leading the growing kombucha popularity?

HC: Yes. America leads the world  because this is where the commercial industry started. GT’s is going to celebrate his 25th anniversary this year. Kombucha has been a commercially available product for 25 years. Even now its taken this long, right, even in the early years it wasn’t around until 2010 when it started to pick up steam and we started to see more brands proliferate. Now here in 2020, we’re going to make it a household name.

Just like yogurt wasn’t a household staple, it was something hippies had to make at home on their countertops themselves, then it was turned into a multi-billion dollar industry. And that’s exactly what we see kombucha becoming. What we see isn’t the opportunity for a bunch of processed food companies. Rather its a bunch of small, family-owned businesses that serve local communities with a fresh product. That’s what’s different and unique about all the fermentation businesses.

I love Farmhouse Cultures — I just bought a bottle of their kraut juice — I look on the back and they’re adding vinegar to it. You can’t keep up when you’re a massive brand and you’re going to have to take shortcuts. To me, yes it tastes good, but its not kraut juice, its vinegar and kraut juice. Unfortunately, that’s just what happens when you go too big with certain things.

People in the 21st Century are looking for viable opportunities with a job that makes you feel good about the work you’re doing and that helps your local communities, and it’s important for these communities to have access to really fresh, nutrient-dense foods. So I always advise people: there’s an opportunity, as long as you’re not afraid of hard work. I advise people its a labor of love, emphasis on the labor. But I also think that if you’re someone who wants to be in your community doing good, this is a great way to do it.

Q: Do you think that’s how the kombucha industry is going to  grow — more small producers than large?

HC: Exactly right. There’s always going to be a certain number of large producers and brands that want to pursue that type of dream, but it’s a huge trade off. Sure you might end up with a bigger paycheck in the end, but you also give up so much of your life and energy in order to make it profitable.

You’re never going to have another GT’s Kombucha. He was first to market. That was a rare opportunity. Were not likely to see an individually or privately owned brand get to that type of level unless they have investment and if you take on an investment, now you are beholden to other people’s ideas about your business.

Look at the beer industry and how things have happened there. New Belgium just sold to a major food corporation from Asia because even economies of scale aren’t sustainable if you don’t continue to have capital infusions. So if you’re looking for a model that will stay sustainable over time, I think it is staying small, having a local footprint, and again that’s better for the planet, better for the community. The reason products need super long shelf lives on them is because it’s being shipped massive distances. If you only have to go to your local place to get kombucha fresh, you don’t have to put so much processing into your products.

Q: Tell me what you’re seeing in the industry now — are craft beer brewers entering the market? Bigger commercial soda brands?

HC: All of these entrants, it’s exciting. What they are seeing are dollar signs and opportunities. Especially as they see their sales slipping. It’s true for craft beer as it is for soda. 

That’s just reflecting how consumers are changing their tastes over time. It’s always healthy to diversify. The reality is what we would love — Coca-Cola started as a health drink, selling in pharmacies, with actual essences and things that were good for you. And now it’s turned into a fake version of a real thing, full of fake ingredients. How wonderful would it be for us as an industry, for us to bring them back to the good side. Don’t poison people with your cheap products and aspartame and things that are known to be toxins. Let’s try to make this something that brings about positive change to everybody. 

We love beer too! I think what we’ll also start to see is the benefits of unfiltered beer. I personally believe that pasteurization and these processing steps that remove the yeast or all of the living nutrients from beer basically creates products that don’t deliver on the nutritional promise that was guaranteed for our ancestors.

We crave bubbles because our ancestors understood that meant that nutrients were present in a living form. And so many people have come to find they can’t tolerate carbonated water — well that’s carbonic acid, it’s not natural organic acids, it’s not all of the yeast and nutrients present in yeast. 

The conflict is always these are tough products to control. That’s again where the model of having several small producers is actually better.

Q: What are some of the greatest myths consumers believe about kombucha? How can brands debunk the myths?

HC: In the headlines, we get the two polarizing viewpoints — kombucha is the miracle elixir that will save your life and kombucha is snake oil that is dangerous. The reality is the truth is always somewhere in the middle. This is not a beverage for everybody. That’s because we have so many people dealing with a healing crisis. However, there is a ferment for everyone. So either its a miracle cure — or it will kill you. Both of those are the greatest myths. 

Will you feel a benefit from drinking kombucha? Absolutely. We have a research study we presented last year showing how kombucha impacts inflammation and stress markers. They’ve taken that study to the next step, which we’ll be hearing those results at KKon this year.

People have provided anecdotal information for how kombucha has helped them with a wide range of inclement for hundreds, thousands of years, right. And so often science wants to ignore that information. But truly that’s the jumping off point for studying something, for understanding something. It is because of the anecdotal information.

Science is a method of inquiry. The phenomenon already exists. We just don’t necessarily know what’s driving it until we engage in scientific inquiry. So this idea that science is settled, that we already know everything, is ridiculous. It’s human hubris to think that. What I think is exciting is in this 21st Century, we continue to do the research and validate the anecdotal claims, and again not everything is for everybody. Some people are allergic to shrimp, strawberries, you name it, there are people who can be allergic to anything and all that says is we’re diverse and not everything is for everybody and that’s OK. Honestly, I think what’s exciting about our industry is you try one kombucha and don’t like it — try another. It’s going to taste totally different. It’s not a miracle, but it’s not going to kill you. It’s not for everyone, but it helps a lot of people. And that’s what World Kombucha Day tries to do — to introduce you to kombucha and see where you land on that spectrum. 

Q: What is driving kombucha’s popularity in the past few years?

HC: Microbiome. The rise of autoimmune disease and metabolic disease. People are sick of being sick and start to turn to food to get better because they’ve heard you can get better with certain types of food or by changing their diet. And while they are not getting that advice from their doctors, unless they’re seeing a naturopath or something like that, I think people out of desperation are turning to their diet because they’re just so uncomfortable with where they’re at healthwise. That to me is truly what’s fueling the fueling popularity of this product. So many people consume it, and they say they “Just feel good.” What does that mean, how do you quantify that? Is it just my tummy feels more settled? There’s a whole range of things that could refer to. And I think that’s really what’s driving it.

People are waking up. They realize now they’ve been lied to by packaged foods — I call it poisoned in prepackaging by pretty people. How many sodas is Beyonce drinking to be that shape? You know there’s mythology when they’ve put these packages in people’s hands but that’s not who’s actually drinking this on a regular basis. 

Especially this younger generation is more critical of advertising and more critical of doing what everyone else has done until now. They are starting to recognize “Hey what are all  these weird flavorings and chemicals in my food and water?” and “Hey I thought someone was in charge of and managing this?” and then you find out, no, corporations are actually still allowed to dump toxins into the water supply, we still have lead in Michigan and Flint. This mythology of a government that cares for you is being broken down. For good reason. Unfortunately, the forces that be are trying to maintain a status quo because they make money off people being sick for so long. But that really is that change — I’m not saying kombucha will cure everything. Buts it’s a gateway. It’s a gateway to healing your body, getting some kind of relief, and seeing there’s a world of other choices you can make that are going to yield different health benefits.

Q: The soda industry is rapidly declining. Do you think kombucha can capture those consumers?

HC: One thousand percent. Really Who is our competition? It’s not other kombucha brands. Its soda companies, it’s energy drink companies, it’s soda water companies, it’s seltzer water companies, it’s “smart water” that’s water with some electrolytes, it’s Gatorade. It’s all this manufactured, lab-created junk. Supplements will never be as good as the real thing. And kombucha is a real thing — it’s a real fermented beverage. It’s what soda aspires to be.

Fermented foods are spiking in popularity in the deli section. A cover story in Deli Business magazine features fermented food offerings in the deli case — from meat, cheese, olives and pickles. Representatives from The Fermentation Association were quoted in the piece, highlighting the unique flavors and health benefits of fermented foods that drive the category. Van Holten’s pickles has seen 13 years of sales growth, with the past two years as their strongest sales growth. Eric Girard, vice president of sales and marketing at Van Holten’s:  “Consumers continue to turn away from salty snacks to easy grab and go items that are healthier. Pickles were often a spear at the side of a sandwich, which it still is, but can be a snack. Fermented foods will garner more shelf space in delis in the future, but companies will need to innovate with flavors to keep it fresh and top of mind.”

Read more (Deli Business magazine)

The fermented food and ingredient market is expected to reach $689.34 billion by 2023, driven by rising per capita income and increasing consumer health awareness.

Research & Markets