Kombucha brands biggest competition are not other kombucha brands – it’s soda and functional beverages. Sales continue to hemorrhage in the soda category as consumers shun sugar-filled drinks. And kombucha companies have a great opportunity now to grab that market share.

A panel of leaders in the kombucha and beverage industry shared their insights on the future of kombucha at KombuchaKon, Kombucha Brewers International’s 6th annual conference. They agreed the fermented tea is not a fad, but brands “have to be nimble and creative” to thrive in an increasingly crowded market.

“The future is really, really bright,” said John Peirano, the vice president of marketing at Humm Kombucha. “It’s super exciting – and we’re just getting started.”

Local Brands Will Reign

As more and more kombucha brands enter the industry, the brand’s biggest strengths will be selling to their regional market.

“There are all these local brands retailers are going to want because they care about what’s happening locally,” Peirano said. “Local brands are going to be really, really important.”

John Craven, editor of beverage industry news site BevNET, has covered the beverage world for nearly two decades. He said marketing brands locally works in the kombucha category, but not in any other beverage space.

“Prior to (kombucha), if you said ‘I want to build a regional brand,’ I would have said ‘That’s not a thing,’” Craven said.

Educating Retailer & Consumer

Retailers want to give \consumer’s a variety of product choices, Craven added. They’re more likely to commit to selling kombucha if there are multiple brands and SKUs on their store shelf.

“With (kombucha), it’s OK to like a bunch of different brands,” Craven said. It’s normal for a kombucha consumer to switch between different brands and flavors. “That is one thing this category has going for it that’s really unique. … It definitely has defied traditional beverage logic in that regard.”

Litigation against kombucha brands continues to top headlines, as lawsuits claim alcohol content is misrepresented or sugar levels are understated in different brands. In the next few months, KBI will be releasing their own standards defining kombucha.

Truth in labeling will drive trust with the consumer and the retailer, Peirano said. “It’s important that what’s inside the bottle is on the label,” he added.

“As category leaders, we also have to be category captains. We have to go to the retailers with really strong selling stories. And those selling stories aren’t just about Humm. Those selling stories are about the category and what will drive the most profitability for that retailer category and that shelf set, so they can be successful.”

Refrigerated kombucha and the fermented beverage category has grown 31.4 percent year-over-year, according to data from SPINS market research. And household awareness continues to climb – it increased 20 percent in 2018.

Kombucha is sold in the refrigerated section, some of the most expensive space on a grocery shelf.

“I think it’s all our responsibilities, if we want to continue to grow this category, we’ve got to go out and education and tell people about the magical, beautiful benefits of what kombucha brings to the table from a functional health standpoint,” Peirano said.

Brands Need to Remain Fresh

The kombucha industry is already dominated by a handful of national brands – GT Kombucha, Kevita, Health Ade, Humm Kombucha and Brew Dr. control the majority of market share. The panel agreed smaller brands can still successfully enter the category, but the top sellers are locked.

“There’s not room for a dozen million dollar-plus brands,” Craven said. “But the reality…is that some of these (smaller) brands will be acquired and will probably be absorbed and evolved, ruined, whatever, which makes an opportunity for the next brand to come along.”

“There are a lot of functional products out there…the beverage history lesson is consumers are really fickle,” Craven added. He pointed to Vitamin Water as an example, a brand that rapidly grew popular in the beverage industry but then lost sales. “The consumer keeps moving on to the flavor or the function of the month, so to speak.”

Craven does not think kombucha will be a victim like Vitamin Water because kombucha includes value-added health benefits. The kombucha brands that survive the next decade, though, must be adept to change. They must evolve with new flavors and brewing styles, while maintaining affordability, consistency and health benefits.

Growing Kombucha Enhancement: CBD

One of those kombucha styles keeping the industry fresh: CBD. Conrad Ferrel, founder and CEO of True Büch, said combining the benefits of the cannabis plant with the functional compounds in kombucha makes sense.

“The evolution of cannabis used with kombucha, it’s a natural marriage,” Ferrel said. “If you want to have kombucha for sleep, there will be a specific kombucha for that. If you want it for pain management, it will be there. It will be functional and specific to the certain (medical aid) people want.”

There are 140 compounds in the cannabis plant, but so far only two – THC and CP – have been studied, added Ferrel. CP is a value-added compound, known to aid in improving medical ailments. But science is lagging.

“As the world gets used to the science … the struggle is to sell people something that for years was considered a drug, now we’re trying to sell people on the fact that it’s good for you,” Ferrel added.

Hard Kombucha Gaining Traction

Hard kombucha is another brewing style keeping the kombucha category competitive. It’s evidence of how many beverage categories kombucha bleeds into – like alcohol, tea, juice, flavored water and functional beverages.

Kyle Oliver, quality assurance scientist at Boochcraft, said regular kombucha has an ABV of .5 percent to 2 percent. Hard or high alcohol kombucha goes above that level. Boochcraft has 7 percent ABV. The ABV is higher because hard kombucha goes through a secondary fermentation process, where more yeast and sugar are added.

“Our organisms we want in our kombucha are spoilage organisms in other industries (like wine and beer),” Oliver said. “The higher ABV doesn’t kill probiotics, they’re able to still grow in that environment.”

Sour is taking over our taste buds. A New York Times Style Magazine article explores how sour flavor is “dominating our dining discourse.” The article lists fermenting, kombucha, sourdough, kimchi, drinking vinegar, cocktail shrubs and sour beer as evidence of sour’s ascent in American’s palates. Samin Nosrat, author of the book of cohost of the Netflix series both titled “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” says acid is one of the building blocks of flavor and makes our mouth water. “...your body gets confused — maybe I want more?”

Read more (New York Times Style Magazine)

On the cusp of an announcement from KBI on standards defining kombucha, GT Dave — founder of GT’s Kombucha — gave KBI a $1 million endowment to protect authentic kombucha. Speaking to attendees at the annual KombuchaKon, GT said: “Kombucha is now being mass produced by some newer brands that have entered the market and they are positioning them for a mainstream palate. These barely fermented products are missing the heart and soul of what the industry of kombucha should be, and it’s looking more like a new age soft drink.” GT believes kombucha brands need to be upfront about what techniques they’re using to make their kombucha, like pasteurization, hyper-filtration, artificial carbonation, concentrate use and/or spinning cone technology.

Read more (Food Navigator)

The kombucha industry is exploding – sales were up 21 percent to $728.8 million last year. Kombucha and non-alcoholic fermented beverages are now the third largest beverage category, representing 10 percent of total refreshment beverage sales.

Distribution is high at conventional, natural and convenience stores. But velocities (sales) are declining.

“A word of caution – there’s going to be a reckoning,” said Bobbi Leahy, director of sales at SPINS, a natural products market research group. “All these retailers are taking all these lovely kombuchas … they will be evaluating you, probably far soon than you think is warranted. There will be some slashing going on.”

Leahy spoke at KombuchaKon, the Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) annual trade conference in Long Beach. The year’s KombuchaKon was the industry’s largest since the first conference six years ago, with 424 attendees from 17 countries.

“I applaud you all on the growth. I think that’s wonderful,” Leahy said. But “I would be ready with some materials to go in and defend your spaces.”

In her presentation on the kombucha market analysis and future trends, Leahy emphasized that refrigerated beverage shelves are expensive retail space. She shared advice with kombucha brands on how to survive the current high distribution wave. The SPINS analysis is based off 52 weeks of sales ending in February 2019. Her tips:

  • Prepare with Sales Materials. If kombucha sales can’t keep up with distribution, retailers will have to answer to their higher-ups. Why is there so much kombucha on the shelf that isn’t selling? Leahy warned brands to be the ones educating retailers, advising brands to share data points and score cards. She added: “I encourage you to go and get ahead of that, be the one talking that message. You tell them what the right set is, you tell them what they should do, you know this industry. If they’re overstocked on something, then let them know. They’re looking to you to be the experts.”
  • Conventional supermarkets reign. The bulk of kombucha and fermented beverage sales are coming from conventional supermarkets. “If you succeed in the conventional channel, you’ll have success overall because they represent 70 percent of sales,” Leahy said.
  • Don’t ignore convenience stores. Convenience store (like 7-11 and gas stations) sales of kombucha and fermented beverage sales are growing 55 percent. “You have to make it a task to go after convenience,” Leahy noted. “You probably wouldn’t have said ‘That’s my low-hanging fruit, I’m going to go in there.’ But they’re certainly getting the message now … It’s certainly worth having a plan to go after convenience.”
  • Craft different sales messages for each channel. Don’t go in to retailers with the same message. Between conventional, convenience, natural and specialty stores, each channel will care about different things.
  • Know region’s sales trends. The west coast – especially California – has high kombucha sales. The south central, mid-south and Great Lakes regions are under-indexing in kombucha sales. Leahy pointed out that the west is a ready audience and a great spot to experiment with new flavors. The south and Great Lakes regions, though, need an education focus. Demos are a great idea in the area.
  • Highlight brand’s best attributes. Boast about characteristics beyond the label. Features like: clean label, sustainability, brand mission, wellness goals, social impact and great ingredient sources.
  • Top selling flavors are solid. Ginger and berry are the two top flavors across all channels. The “fruit – other” is also a top selling flavor and growing (135 percent), which is defined as unique fruit flavors like watermelon, guava and melon. The past year, there has been the strongest growth in flavors: apple (172 percent), grapefruit (155 percent), pomegranate (104 percent) and orange (98 percent).
  • Tread lightly with unique flavors. Leahy pointed out, if a unique flavor only appeals to a small audience, a conventional retailer will notice only a small number of customers are buying it. “That small and that low is going to be kind of a perfect storm,” she said. “You really want to be careful.”
  • Smaller size bottles sell best. The 14- to 17-ounce size kombucha make up the majority of sales.
  • Start sales promotions. Coupons, mailers and sales are great options to get products off shelves.
  • Use your social network. Let people know which stores you’re at.
  • Maintain a good store locator. Brand’s websites should feature a good store locator detailing which stores carry which flavors of kombucha.
  • Top kombucha brands dominate the market. GT Kombucha, Kevita, Health Ade, Humm Kombucha and Brew Dr. account for 88 percent of kombucha sales at conventional retailers and 89 percent of kombucha sales at convenience stores. GT Kombucha, Kevita, Health Ade and Brew Dr. account for 77 percent of kombucha sales at natural stores and 82 percent of kombucha sales at specialty gourmet stores. Those same top brands likely will not change, Leahy noted.
  • Know beverage trends. “The trends you are seeing in kombucha are special and unique,” Leahy said. “…as you’re sitting across a buyer or a category manager or retailer, you want to be well-versed in what other beverages are on the shelf and which ones they’re probably going to protect.”
    • Natural beverages are contributing more to the growth of the refreshment beverage category than non-natural. The conventional, shelf-stable beverages (like Coke and Pepsi products) account for 63 percent of the refreshment beverage industry, but only 53 percent of growth. Diet soda is especially losing favor among consumers. Specialty and wellness beverages (like energy drinks and Gatorade) make up 29 percent of sales and 35 percent of growth, especially driven by energy drinks. Natural drinks (like kombucha and La Croix) make up 8 percent of sales, but natural is driving 13 percent of growth.
    • Of the natural beverage subcategories, shelf-stable performance beverages (like Body Armor) are experiencing the biggest growth at 87 percent. Declining categories include shelf-stable coconut water (-12 percent) and juices (-3 percent).
  • Emphasize growth of natural products industry. Natural products are no longer a niche market. The natural products industry is estimated to reach $140 billion in sales in 2019. In 2003, natural products were a $52 billion industry.

When SPINS began tracking kombucha sales years ago, Leahy noted kombucha was “barely a blip on the map.” Current Kombucha sales numbers are also likely higher than noted – major retailers Costco and Whole Foods do not share sales data with SPINS.

“In a way, it’s a good problem to have – you can’t sell if you’re not on the shelf,” Leahy said. “ou’re on the shelf – now it’s time to sell.”

KombuchaKon 2019 starts today in Long Beach! The 6th annual conference by Kombucha Brewers International is the association’s largest-ever conference. Kombucha is a rapidly growing beverage category, projected to grow at a CAGR of 13% to $3.5 billion in sales by 2025. For more information, check out KBI.

 

 

Oregon lawmakers are attempting to end the alcoholic beverage tax placed on kombucha. One of the fastest growing fermented produce and beverages, many kombucha brands are based in Oregon, and state leadership on both sides of the political fence realize how critical kombucha is to Oregon’s economy. “I’ve met with kombucha manufacturers in Oregon who have told me how this outdated tax is holding back their industry,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River). “This bill will help these small businesses keep more of their hard earned money to reinvest in their businesses and create jobs in our communities.” The bill – called Keeping our Manufacturers from Being Unfairly Taxed while Championing Health Act (or KOMBUCHA) – would increase alcohol-by-volume limit for kombucha from 0.5 percent to 1.25 percent. Currently, fermented beverages containing at least 0.5 percent of alcohol by volume are taxed through federal alcohol excise taxes.

Read more (Oregon Public Broadcasting) (Photo by: Humm Kombucha)

Wall Street Journal called 2018 “The Year of Fancy Water and Kombucha.” Beverages were one of few climbing categories in low supermarket sales. Drinks, according to Nielson, “must now be purpose-fulfilling, light and fizzy.” Kombucha sales rose a huge 43% in 2018 for $400 million in sales. Sparkling water and “value-added water” (beverages with vitamins and electrolytes) rose 17.5% in 2018 for an impressive $2 billion in sales.

Read more (Wall Street Journal)

Today’s food is packaged in so much plastic that humans now regularly consume plastic molecules in their food. A Polish design student created Scoby packaging, an edible and recyclable packaging that farmers can grow to wrap products. The zero waste biological tissue is a similar texture to animal tissue used to encapsulate sausage or salami, but Scoby is vegetarian and can be grown with a simple chemical process student Roza Janusz of the School of Form in Poznan, Poland invented. The process is similar to making kombucha, and the fermentation growth time per sheet is two weeks.

Read more (Fast Company)

Fermentation is dominating 2019 food prediction lists. The New York Times says fermented foods and fermented drinks will rule in 2019. The year’s flavor profile will be “Sour and funky, with shades of heat,” melding fermented ingredients with millennial taste buds. Probiotics and prebiotics will continue to reign as consumers focus on gut health. “As the obsession with digestive health dovetails with the fascination for fermenting, kimchi, sauerkraut and pickled things will work their way into new territory. Smoothies with kefir will be popular, and kombucha will show up in unexpected places like salad dressings,” the article continues. What will you be eating in 2019?

Read more (New York Times)

The new “it” clean food label: Glyphosate Residue-Free Certification. The main ingredient in weed killer, glyphosate is the most heavily used pesticide in the world. A probable human carcinogen, Forbes estimates it’s about to become a household name consumers will cut out of their food. Though glyphosate is banned in organic crops, it still drifts into the organic food supply, especially in anything oat-based. The new label is awarded by 3rd-party The Detox Project, who regularly tests brands for glyphosates. Costing $1,472 per year, the certification was first granted to Foodstirs, the organic baking company launched by actress Sarah Michelle Gellar and Galit Laibow.

Read more (Forbes) (Photo by: Foodstirs)