Pandemic Pushes Kombucha Biz to Close

/ / Business

Arizona-based kombucha brand All About the Booch is shutting down after five years, citing the pandemic and inflation. Co-owner Shelley Aul opened up about the decision, shining a light on the struggles of running a small, craft fermentation business.

“I really think if the pandemic hadn’t happened, we might not be closing,” Aul says. She shared why the brand was closing in a series of Instagram videos on the brand’s page. “We were on this trajectory going into 2020 and when the pandemic hit, it completely stunted our growth. And we’ve struggled to come back from that.”

Supply prices increased astronomically since the brand first launched. In 2017, the 16 ounce, clear, glass bottles used to sell their fermented tea cost 33 cents each. Today, they are 96 cents each. Aul points out that’s just the cost of the bottle, not the label, lid, seal, tea or fruit. Those prices went up, too, as did other business expenses, like insurance and gas. 

“We can only adjust our pricing so much before we’re too high for you to be able to buy our kombucha,” Aul says. “It got to a point where we don’t really feel comfortable raising our prices again and we’re making less and less with our sales.”

Sales revenue has changed in that time. All About the Booch was an early adopter of Arizona-brewed kombucha, scoring several large accounts in 2019 with keg sales at offices, restaurants, bars and stadiums. The Aul’s were expecting double the sales in 2020 – but then the pandemic hit. And sales took a huge dip. 

They switched to consumer sales at farmers markets, which “honestly saved us. We had a great experience in the farmers markets, we recoupled a lot of those initial losses.”

But, 2-3 years after the pandemic started, their wholesale accounts are not coming back. Aul says she couldn’t pin the reasoning to one thing – she assumes wholesalers are struggling or the economy is bad – but it became “really inconsistent and hard to depend on.”

Aul, who ran the brand with her husband Duane, notes their personal life changed, too. Aul kept her corporate job while building All About the Booch, working an additional 20-30 hours after her 40 hours a week job on the kombucha side hustle. “We realized we want to spend our time differently,” she says, adding she hopes to travel and enjoy her kids more without the pressure of the kombucha brand. 

The All About the Booch account will still be active as the Aul’s transition from commercial brewers to home brewers.