David Zilber says the potential for fermented food is endless. “There isn’t any sort of food that doesn’t benefit from some aspect of fermentation,” he said. “There’s really no limitation to its application.”

Zilber, the former head of the Noma fermentation lab, co-authored “The Noma Guide to Fermentation” with Noma founder Rene Redzepi. In the fall of 2020, Zilber surprised the food world when he left his job at Noma to join Chr. Hansen, a global supplier of bioscience ingredients.

He shared his insight on fermentation on The Food Institute Podcast. An Oxford study found over 30% of the world’s food has been touched by microbes. Zilber, a microbe champion, says one of the best parts of fermenting with plant-based ingredients is the microbes don’t need to change.

“We do need to find ways to adapt them to new sources, but there will always be a place within the pie chart of what humans are eating on earth for fermentation,” he says.

Part of Zilber’s work at Chr. Hansen is in the plant-based protein alternative segment, fermenting plant ingredients to “bring this other set of characteristics” to a new food item. He advises fermenters using plant-based ingredients to make their ingredient list concise and pronounceable to consumers. 

“I am a huge proponent for formulating recipes from whole ingredients,” Zilber says. “Keeping the ingredient list short and concise and using natural processes to achieve flavor or textual properties … because it is the healthiest way to eat.”

Across the spectrum of fermentation, he feels fermented beverages is the category where he sees the greatest opportunity.

Read more (The Food Institute)

Nutrition professionals need to share the details when recommending fermented products to clients. What are the health benefits of the specific food or beverage ? Does the product contain probiotics? Live microbes?

“There are a vast array of fermented foods. This is important because it means there can be tasty, culturally appropriate options for everyone,” says Hannah Holscher, PhD and registered dietitian (RD). But, she adds, remember that these are complex products.

Holscher spoke at a webinar produced by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) and Today’s Dietitian. Joined by Jennifer Burton, RD and licensed dietitian/nutritionist (LDN), the two addressed the topic Fermented Foods and Health — Does Today’s Science Support Yesterday’s Tradition? Hosted by Mary Ellen Sanders, executive director of ISAPP, the presentation touched on the foundational elements of fermented foods, their differences from probiotics, the role of microbes in fermentation, current scientific evidence supporting health claims and how to help clients incorporate fermented foods in their diets. 

Sanders called fermented foods “one of today’s hottest food categories.” Today’s Dietitian surveys show they are a top interest to dietitians, as the general public often turns to them with questions about fermented foods and digestive health. 

Here are three factors highlighted in the webinar that dietitians should consider before recommending fermented foods and beverages.

Does It Contain Live Microbes?

Fermentation is a metabolic process – microorganisms convert food components into other substances. 

In the past decade, scientists have applied genomic sequencing to the microbial communities in fermented foods. They’ve found there’s not just one microbe involved in fermentation, Holscher explained,  there may be many. The most common microbes in fermented foods are streptococcus, lactobacillaceae, lactococcus and saccharomyces.

But deciphering which fermented food or beverages contains live microbes can be difficult.

Live microorganisms are present in foods like yogurt, miso, fermented vegetables and many kombuchas. But they are absent in foods that were fermented then heat-treated through baking and pasteurization (like bread, soy sauce, most vinegars and some kombucha). They’re also absent in fermented products that are filtered (most wine and beers) or roasted (coffee and cacao). And there are foods that are mistakenly considered fermented but are not, like chemically-leavened bread, vegetables pickled in vinegar and non-fermented cured meats and fish.

“The main take-home message is that it’s not always easy to tell if a food is a fermented food or not. So you may need to do more digging, either by reading the label more carefully or potentially contacting the food manufacturer,” Holscher said. “When we just think of if live microbes are present or not, a good rule of thumb is if that food is on the shelf at your grocery store, it’s very likely that it does not contain live microbes.”

Does It Contain Probiotics?

The dietitians stressed: probiotics are not the same as fermented foods.

“Probiotics are researched as to the strains and the dosages to be able to connect consumption of a probiotic to a health outcome,” Holscher said. “These strains are taxonomically defined, they’ve been sequenced, we know what these microorganisms can do. They also have to be provided in doses of adequate amounts of the live microbes so foods and supplements are sources of probiotics.”

Though fermented foods can be a source of probiotics, Holscher notes: “In most fermented foods, we don’t know the strain level designation.”

“For most of the microbes in fermented foods, we’ve just really been doing the genomic sequencing of those over the last 10 years and so we may only know them to the genus level right,” she said. For example, we know lactic acid bacteria are present in kimchi and sauerkraut.

Holscher suggests, if a client has a specific health need, a probiotic strain should be recommended based on its evidence-based benefits. For example, the probiotic strain saccharomyces boulardii is known to help prevent travel-related diarrhea, and so would be good for a patient to take before a trip.

“If you’re looking to support health and just in general, fermented foods are a great way to go,” Holscher says.

The speakers recommended looking for probiotic foods in the Functional Food Section of the U.S. Probiotic Guide.

Does Research Support Health Claims?

Fermentation contributes to the functional and nutritional characteristics of foods and beverages. Fermented foods can: inhibit pathogens and food spoilage microbes, improve digestibility, increase vitamins and bioactives in food, remove or reduce toxic substances or anti-nutrients in food and have health benefits.

But research into fermented foods has been minimal, mostly limited to fermented dairy. Dietitians should be careful making strong recommendations based on health claims unless those claims are supported by research. And food labels should always be scrutinized.

“There’s a lot of voices out there that are trying to answer this question [Are fermented foods good for us?],” says Burton. “Many food manufacturers have published health claims on their labels talking about these benefits and, while those claims are regulated, they’re not always enforced. Just because it has a food health claim on it, that claim may not be evidence-based. There’s a lot of anecdotal accounts of benefits coming from eating fermented foods and the research is suggesting some exciting potential mechanisms. But overall we know as dietitians we have an ethical responsibility to practice on the basis of sound evidence and to not make strong recommendations if those are not yet supported by research.”

Reputable health claims are documented in randomized control trials. But only “possible benefits” can be linked to nonrandomized controlled trials. And non-controlled trials are  the least conclusive studies of all.

For example, Burton puts miso in the “possible benefits” category because, with its high sodium content, there’s not enough research indicating it’s safe for patients with heart disease. Similarly, she does not recommend kombucha because of its extremely limited clinical research and evidence. 

“We have to use caution in making these recommendations,” Burton says.

This is why Burton advises dietitians to be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell patients “eat fermented foods” — list the type of fermented food and its brand name. She also says to give patients the “why” — what is the benefit of this fermented food? Does it increase fiber or boost bioavailability of nutrients? 

“Are fermented foods good for us? It’s safe to say yes,” Burton says. “There’s a lot that we don’t know, but the body of evidence suggests that fermentation can improve the beneficial properties of a food.”

Doctors and microbiologists warn: despite what the latest social media trends proclaim, there’s no quick fix for better gut health. More influencers are promoting  their “cures” — from drinking aloe vera juice to boiling apples — on TikTok. Their videos are getting millions of views — and are raising concerns from medical and scientific authorities.

“If somebody is claiming to have something that will immediately turn gut health around, you should be skeptical of that,” says Justin Sonnenburg, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford. The article in The New York Times notes Sonnenburg advocates for  “long-term lifestyle habits that can benefit the gut — ones that rarely go viral or make their way to social media acclaim.”

Sonnenburg’s groundbreaking study last August showed fermented foods — like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha — can increase the diversity of gut bacteria. “His research found that people who ate six servings of fermented foods each day saw these benefits — the equivalent of consuming one cup of yogurt, one 16-ounce bottle of kombucha and one cup of kimchi in a day,” the article continues.

The Times interviewed a panel of experts that included a dietitian, sociologist, gastroenterologist and Sonnenburg. They say, to improve your gut, change your lifestyle. They encourage eating more fiber, eating fermented foods, limiting processed foods and lowering stress levels.

Read more (The New York Times)

More and more food and beverages are labeling their product with -biotics – probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics — confusing consumers as to what a -biotic is and its potential health benefit.

There’s an “overuse of the term probiotic as referring to any live microbe,” says Bob Hutkins, professor of food microbiology and the University of Nebraska (and a Science Advisor on TFA’s Advisory Board). Probiotics, according to the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), require documentation of both a health benefit and the strain.

“It’s a high bar to call something a probiotic,” he continues. “I read labels that say ‘contains probiotics’ and I’d say, the vast majority of the time, they’re incorrectly named if they’re named at all.”

Hutkins was part of a panel hosted by Food Navigator on “Feeding the Gut Microbiome: From Pre-, Pro-, and Postbiotics.” Speakers included leaders of food brands and -biotic supplement brands. 

Is a Fermented Food Probiotic? 

The issues surrounding probiotics and fermented foods have long been debated. TFA hosted a webinar on the topic in 2021, and it was the focus of a keynote session at TFA’s FERMENTATION 2021 conference.

Using the example of kimchi, Hutkins explains the fermented cabbage may contain live microbes that closely resemble a probiotic strain. But, according to scientific-backed definitions by ISAPP and the World Health Organization (WHO), “you can’t call that kimchi probiotic unless you isolated the strain, characterized the strain, done a clinical study and then that kimchi is going to be different from the kimchi you’ll make tomorrow. So it’s a challenge for companies that are producing fermented foods that probably have live microbes that can provide some benefits, but you can’t call them probiotics.” 

Hutkins encourages fermentation producers to use the term “rich in live microbes” on their label instead. If the product does include clinically tested probiotics (like in yogurt), “I really applaud the company that puts the genus and species on their package.”

Consumer Education

Miguel Freitas, PhD, vice president of health scientific affairs at Danone North America, says the conversation in the industry needs to change from just probiotics to strain specificity. 

“There are many consumers that are just seeking the word probiotic on the packaging. And they believe that probiotics will [help] everything from immune health to gut health,” Freitas says. “This is where I believe it can start to get tricky because there are so many products out there.”

Though the science around -biotics has evolved tremendously in the past two decades, consumers are overwhelmed and confused by all the choices.For example, he points to a new clothing brand that alleges the probiotics in their clothes are activated by heat. 

This is why the food and beverage industry needs to play an active role in consumer education, says Todd Beckman, president of Verb Biotics.

“They have a platform to talk about health, these specific ingredients and health benefits,” he says. “They have the megaphone to talk to consumers in a true and authentic way.”

But Beckman warns: “the brands that don’t really know what they’re doing or don’t stand for anything or don’t stand for science, they’re not going to be there tomorrow.” Consumers will abandon brands with unsubstantiated health claims. 

“If all of a sudden consumers aren’t believing in probiotics or what they can do, then it’s quite damaging,” he says.

Tom First, founder and CEO of Culture Pop probiotic soda, says that, though their brand has the clinical benefits of a verified and shelf-stable probiotic strain, they don’t lead with this complicated information in their marketing. Instead, they focus on flavor and it “being a fun drink,” figuring consumers can look to the Culture Pop website if they want to dive deeper.

Assorted -Biotics

Adding to consumer confusion: products on grocery shelves may now contain one of three -biotics – probiotics, prebiotics or postbiotics. Justin Green, PhD, director of scientific affairs at Cargill Health Technologies, says many think of -biotics as a daily supplement with a simple health benefit, like vitamin C.

“We really have to drive home there’s going to be different [-biotics] from different organisms, different fermentation techniques and most importantly different health benefits,” he says. 

Probiotics are live bacteria; prebiotics are food for the bacteria; and postbiotics are metabolites produced by the probiotics. 

A new study aims to profile consumer habits with fermented foods and beverages. Researchers want to know the types of fermented products that are most popular — and why. To TFA’s knowledge, this is the first major study probing consumer perceptions of fermented foods.

“With this survey we hope to gain a better understanding of the types of fermented foods people are consuming and what motivates them to incorporate fermented foods into their diet,” says Erin DiCaprio, PhD, a food safety expert and extension specialist at UC Davis. “We also want to gather data on the trends related to in-home fermentation and the sources of information the public turns to related to fermented foods. The data we collect will help inform future areas of focus for research and education on fermented foods.”

The study is conducted by the EATLAC project at the University of California, Davis, Department of Food Science and Technology. EATLAC (Evaluating And Testing Lacto-ferments Across the Country), funded by California’s agricultural department, aims to provide accurate information and resources to the public. EATLAC’s directors are DiCaprio and Maria Marco, PhD, microbiologist and professor in the department of food science and technology at the university (and member of TFA’s Advisory Board). 

To participate in the 10-minute anonymous survey, follow the link: https://ucdavis.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0CzKfHUWgX2HHVj

After the pandemic pantry stock-up of 2020, when grocery food purchases skyrocketed, sales of U.S. natural and organic products have slowed. Sales increased 7.7% to $274 billion in 2021. That’s a lower growth rate than the 13% pace seen at the height of the pandemic in 2020, but still higher than the pre-pandemic level of 5.3%. Sales are forecast to exceed $400 billion by 2030. 

“For an industry that was always called a fad and a niche, to be able to hit $400 billion by 2030 just indicates that we have moved mainstream, ”said Carlotta Mast, senior vice president of the New Hope Network (a division of Informa PLC), which produces Natural Products Expo West. The stats were presented during the expo’s State of Natural & Organic Industry presentation.

Speaking to a standing-room only crowd, industry experts shared how the Covid-influenced sales boost will stay because “consumers have changed.”

“They’re paying more attention to their health and wellness, they’re investigating new brands, they’re cooking more at home and this is creating longer-term opportunities for this industry,” Mast said.

After a two-year hiatus, 2022 marked the return of Expo West, the largest natural products show.The event was smaller than in pre-pandemic times. There were 57,000 attendee registrations this year, versus 86,000 in 2019; 2,700 exhibitors, compared with 3,600. 

Kathryn Peters, executive vice president at SPINS (a data provider for natural, organic and specialty products), said wellness-positioned brands are the main source of CPG growth and innovation. She cited that, while wellness products represent only 25% of the market, they produce 68% of growth.

“The pursuit of wellness is driving this industry and its changing consumers,” Peters said. “People are paying attention to what they’re putting in and on our bodies.”

Functional Flourishing

The natural, organic and functional food and beverage category — where fermented products reside — drives nearly 70% of natural product sales. Functional food and beverage sales grew 8.3% to $83.78 billion in 2021. Functional beverages, frozen foods and snacks are the top selling items in the functional space.

From kombucha to kraut, from chocolate to yogurt, dozens of fermented brands exhibited at this year’s event.

Esther Lee, CEO of Korean fermented tea brand IDO tea (a long-time participant in Expo West), doesn’t think it’s wellness attributes that initially attract consumers to functional beverages. She says it’s packaging and ingredients.

“Later on they usually realize their body feels different after using our products for weeks,” Lee said.. IDO Tea is currently sold in Korea, online on Amazon and in small shops in Los Angeles. It was at Expo West looking for a U.S. distributor.

New brand Miso Good attended the show as a relaunch. Founder Rhonda Cole began the woman-owned, start-up company with her daughter Lauren in 2019. The Florida-based brand then took a hiatus during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It has been difficult the past few years,” Cole said, adding she hopes to find success at the show. “Our motto is ‘ancient superfoods for the everyday eater’ and our fermented miso is great as a soup, sauce or condiment.”

It was the first Expo West for Local Culture Live Ferments, a Northern California brand that sells small batch sauerkraut, kimchi, hot sauce and brine tonic. 

“We’re too small to be big, but too big to be small. We’re in this in-between stage and that’s very much why we’re here, to break through that threshold and get our product out to people,” said Chris Frost-McKee, director of operations. Local Culture was one of 40 brands selected by food distributor KeHe at their TrendFinder Event (read more about Local Culture in TFA’s Q&A). “We were maxing out our range with our current distribution. Our goal here was to open doors and make connections, and we’ve accomplished that.”

New research has explored how lactic acid bacteria (LAB) in sauerkraut and tibicos survive digestion and change gut microbiota composition. 

This work, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, investigated how a fermentation production process affects LAB and yeast microbial viability and probiotic potential. Though there are studies that demonstrate health benefits of fermented foods, few “explore how being part of a whole fermented food matrix affects microbial viability during fermentation, storage and gastrointestinal (GI) transit.”

The study focused on non-dairy, botanical fermented foods, defined as “microbially transformed plant products rich in health-promoting components.” Tibicos and sauerkraut were chosen because recent research had found the microbial diversity of the two ferments “far exceeded that of dairy-based ferments, as well as containing the largest numbers of potential health-promoting gene clusters.” The tibicos studied was sugar-based while the sauerkraut was brine-based, and both contained various strains of LAB and bioactive components.

Ginger, cayenne pepper and turmeric added to tibicos were all found to have different survival rates in the digestion tract. These functional spices are often added to fermented products for their anti-inflammatory and sensory properties, but their microbial proliferation had never been adequately explored. Cayenne was the clear winner, as adding it to tibicos “significantly improved the survival rate of LAB during simulated gastric and small intestinal digestion compared to ginger and turmeric.” Ginger in tibicos had a higher rate of LAB survival than turmeric, though neither had a significantly higher LAB survival rate than plain tibicos. But adding ginger significantly increased and sustained microbial viability of LAB. 

The research team — from University of Melbourne — did not perform the study on human subjects, but simulated upper gastrointestinal digestion and colonic fermentation tests using pig feces.

Some other significant findings:

  • For an optimal microbial survival rate of 70-80%, tibicos should be consumed within 28 days, and sauerkraut within 7 weeks.
  • Sauerkraut made with different salt concentrations did not show any significant variation in LAB counts. 
  • Inoculating sauerkraut with a starter culture increased LAB counts during fermentation and storage. But, by the end of storage, the LAB counts in the inoculated sauerkraut “dropped to undetectable levels.” 
  • Spontaneously-fermented sauerkraut LAB counts remained stable through the storage period.

“Botanical fermented foods are cheap, easily made, and consumed globally,” the study concluded. “This makes them excellent candidates for the dietary management of pro-inflammatory noncommunicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Jewish Delis GoVegan 

Jewish delis are evolving for modern consumers, offering plant-based alternatives to lox and pastrami. 

“We’re literally saving the Jewish deli. We’re giving it the modern twist that’s desperately needed to stay delicious and relevant to a growing segment of the population,” said Jenny Goldfarb, the founder and CEO of Unreal Deli. Goldfarb’s plant-based corned-beef-pastrami hybrid attracted an investment deal on SharkTank, and today it’s available in 2,200 grocery stores.

Though Jewish cuisine is known for being heavy on meat, vegetarian food has a part in Ashkenazi culture, notes Jeremy Umansky, chef at Larder Deli in Cleveland. He points out that kashruth (kosher dietary laws) and periods of poverty meant Jewish cuisine always included vegetarian recipes. 

The food at Larder — which includes vegan and vegetarian dishes — is put through the same process as animal-based items. Umansky cures mushrooms with salt and koji for a smoky, savory flavor and meat-like texture. 

“It’s all about the method and technique behind the production of those foods,” Umansky said. “You know, going back and looking at things and seeing that there is historical precedent for this.” Pictured, a selection of vegan Jewish deli fare at Ben & Esther’s in Portland, Oregon.

Read more (Insider)

For the fifth year in a row, fermented foods again top the Today’s Dietitian annual list of superfoods.

The 10th annual What’s Trending in Nutrition survey “reveals a wave of change resulting from the pandemic.” Public relations firm Pollock Communications, who conducted the survey for the magazine, surveyed 1,173 Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) about trends for 2022. The “most surprising change from the past decade,” RDNs agreed, was “the shift from low-carb to high-fat diets…followed by plant-based eating.” 

Health- and immunity-boosting food “will be the biggest trend in the next decade that will shape changes in the food industry.” Immunity support, affordability and emotional well-being are consumers’ top purchase drivers; convenience, healthy, taste, low-cost and natural are the top label attributes.

The label attribute “healthy” first made the top three list in 2019 “as consumers began to better understand the connection between food and overall well-being.” RDNs say the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the healthy food trend.

“With the focus on health and immunity in the next decade, and the increased popularity of plant-based eating, nutrient-dense options will be an important part of consumer diets, as [consumers]embrace food as medicine to help prevent disease,” says Louise Pollock, president of Pollock Communications. “In addition, there will likely be an increased interest in functional foods containing ingredients that provide health benefits beyond their nutrient profile.”

Consumer desire for gut-boosting benefits pushed fermented foods to #1 on the list. Changes to the top 10  show salmon is out and ancient giants are in. 

“The predictions of RDNs, the frontline experts in food and nutrition, are always reliable to help food and beverage manufacturers and marketers meet the demands of consumers. Our survey has accurately tracked health and wellness trends for a decade,” says Mara Honicker, publisher of Today’s Dietitian. “We are pleased to have been able to share these insights for the past ten years and especially during this chaotic time in our lives, when food is playing such a major role in providing health, wellness and emotional support.”

The full superfoods list is:

  1. Fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir
  2. Blueberries
  3. Seeds, like chia and hemp
  4. Exotic fruit, like acai and golden berries
  5. Avocados
  6. Green tea
  7. Nuts
  8. Ancient grains
  9. Leafy greens, like spinach
  10. Kale

To read all the takeaways from the 2022 survey, check out the Pollock Communications press release.

Fermentation is cloaked in mystery for many — it’s bubbly, slimy, stinky and not always Instagram-ready. In The Fermentation Association’s recent member survey, this lack of

understanding of fermentation and its flavor and health attributes among consumers was cited by 70% of producers as a major obstacle to increased sales and acceptance of fermented products.

“We get so many questions from our readers about fermentation. People are very interested, but have very, very little knowledge about it,” says Anahad O’Connor, reporter for The New York Times. O’Connor has written about fermented foods multiple times in the last few months, and those articles were among The Times’ most emailed pieces of 2021. “I think there’s a huge opportunity to educate consumers about fermented foods, their impact on the gut and health in general.”

O’Connor spoke on consumer education as part of a panel of experts during TFA’s conference, FERMENTATION 2021. Panelists — who included a producer, retailer, scientist, educator and journalist — agreed consumer education is lacking. But the methods of how to fill that gap are contested.

How to Tell Consumers “What is a Fermented Food?”

There are differences between what is a fermented product and what is not — a salt brine vs. vinegar brine pickle, or a kombucha made with a SCOBY or one from a juice concentrate, for example.

“I can tell you that the majority of our customers do not even know [what is a] fermented item,” says Emilio Mignucci, vice president of Philadelphia gourmet store Di Bruno Bros., which specializes in cheese and charcuterie. When customers sample products at the store, they can easily taste the differences between a fermented and a non-fermented product, Mignucci says. But he feels the health benefits behind that fermented product are not the retailer’s responsibility to communicate. “I need you guys [producers] to help me deliver the message.” 

“Retailers like myself, buyers, we want to learn more to be able to champion [fermented foods] because, let’s face it, fermented foods is a category that’s getting better and better for us as retailers and we want to speak like subject matter experts and help our guests understand.”

Now — when fermentation tops food lists and gut health is mainstream — is the time for education.

“This microbiome world that we’re in right now is sort of a really opportune moment to really help the public understand what fermented foods are beyond health,” says Maria Marco, PhD, professor of food science at the University of California, Davis (and a TFA Advisory Board Member).

Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) created a Code of Practice to address confusion over what is or is not a kombucha. KBI is taking the approach that all kombucha is good, pasteurized or not, because it’s moving consumers away from sugar- and additive-filled sodas and energy drinks. 

“That said, consumers deserve the right to know why is this kombucha at room temperature and this kombucha is in the fridge and why does this kombucha have a weird, gooey SCOBY in it and this one is completely clear,” says Hannah Crum, president of KBI. “They start to get confused when everything just says the word ‘kombucha’ on it.”

KBI encourages brewers to be transparent with consumers. Put on the label how the kombucha is made, then let consumers decide what brand they want to buy.

Should Fermented Products Make Health Claims?

Drew Anderson, co-founder and CEO of producer Cleveland Kitchen (and also on TFA’s Advisory Board), says when they were first designing their packaging in 2013, they were advised against using the term “crafted fermentation” on their label because it would remind consumers of beer or wine. But nowadays, data shows 50% of consumers associate the term fermentation with health.

“In the last five to six years, it’s changed dramatically and people are associating fermentation as being good for them, which is good for my products,” he says.

Cleveland Kitchen, though, does not make health claims on their fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and dressings. Anderson says, as a small startup, they don’t have the resources to fund their own research. They instead attract customers with bold taste and striking packaging.

“We’re extremely cautious on what we say on the package because we don’t have an army of lawyers like Kevita (Pepsi’s Kombucha brand), we don’t have the Pepsi legal team backing us here,” Anderson says. Cleveland Kitchen submits new packaging designs in advance to regulators, to make sure they’re legally acceptable before rolling them out. 

O’Connor says taste is the No. 1 driver for consumers. This is why healthful but sticky and stinky natto (fermented soybeans) is not a popular dish in America, but widely consumed in Japan. 

“Many American consumers, unfortunately, aren’t going to gravitate toward that, despite the health benefits,” he says. 

Crum disagrees. “Health comes first,” she says. As more and more kombucha brands emphasize lifestyle, and don’t even advertise their health benefits, she feels they are doing a disservice to the consumer. “Why pay that much money for kombucha if you don’t know it’s good for you too?”