Kombucha isn’t new, in fact it’s an ancient, fermented, tea-based drink that originated in China and is often called the “tea of immortality” for its reputed health benefits. It offers a rapidly growing health alternative to carbonated soft drinks as it has lower sugar content.
During its fermentation process, the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol and the bacteria in the drink, converts the alcohol to organic acids. What’s left is the sour drink with a hint of vinegar; depending on the flavour, the vinegar can be a welcome and refreshing taste.
Due to its recent spike in popularity, there are many Australian brands that have begun to make and distribute their kombucha products.
Liquefy Health co-founder Trent Butler said he found Kombucha to be an interesting space.
“I spend a lot of time in America and it’s definitely much bigger there already. It was started by the cafes and the hipsters but it is going mainstream,” he said.
“There’s a big trend in looking backwards in order to find the way forward.”
Remedy Kombucha Co-Founder Emmet Condon said he, along with his co-founder Sarah, started making kombucha at their home.
“We started making kombucha at home many years ago as part of a wider obsession with crafting and nurturing a whole range of fermented food and drinks for ourselves and our kids,” he said.
“We loved how they tasted and how they made us feel.
“Around this time, we found ourselves increasingly frustrated with the food industry and the number of misleading so-called ‘healthy’ products on shelves. Rather than focus on the negative, we decided to pour that energy into good, and make something that was truly natural and good for you.”
A health phenomenon
In a poll run by Choice.com.au, 79% of voters said that they drank Kombucha for the health benefits.
A Choice community member commented that it is appealing for its “sherbet-y taste” and probiotics.
Kombucha’s live culture of bacteria and yeast can act as a probiotic offering health benefits including improved digestion function, protection against some diseases and strengthening the immune system and its function.
SCOBY is the acronym for ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’. A scoby is the living conglomerate of bacteria and yeast that transforms the tea and sugar combination into the final kombucha product. It sits on the top of the liquid and seals it off from air while it ferments.
CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Michael Conlon specialises in diet and gut health. He told Choice.com.au: “The health potential of probiotics more generally can vary depending on the number and type of microbes, what you consume them with, and the composition of your own gut microflora. It’s likely the number of microbes in kombucha would be much lower than what you might see in a commercial probiotic product.”
“Fermentation generates certain types of acid and other bioactive compounds that can be beneficial, but whether they get through to the large bowel so that a benefit can be gained is unknown,” he said.
Mr Condon said there is a broad target market of both existing and potential customers.
“Remedy drinkers include both men and women, aged from around 18 to 60, although there are also plenty of fans in age brackets either side of this, too,” he said.
“They are generally middle to high income earners who are health conscious and care about what they put into their body, but they still like to enjoy a tasty beverage.”
Mr Butler said: “I read a study that said 90% of all illness can be traced back to your gut. That’s a pretty big statistic when you think that a lot of disease can be linked back to how heathy your gut flora is.
“The people who discovered it feel a difference when they have it, it’s not just a gimmick these beverages really do make you healthier,” he said.
“We’re all about health drinks; it’s about things that can promote health for you.”
Market to the market
Due to its appeal across all age groups, kombucha is a drink that is ideal for retailers to stock in convenience stores.
Mr Condon said kombucha has no age restrictions.
“Like water, all age groups should and can drink Remedy,” he said.
“We see a lot of parents buying Remedy Kombucha for children as a healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks.”
For merchandising and marketing purposes, Mr Condon recommends the beverage be placed alongside other healthy food products.
“The consumer is the same customer who will select a wrap or salad or other healthy food option.” he said.
“Trial is the key to recruiting new drinks, once people taste it they are convinced.”
According to Mr Condon, another important factor is: “Driving awareness of the health benefits of kombucha.”
Remedy Kombucha has an offering for the convenience sector which includes 250ml cans at a lower price point to encourage consumers to trial the product, as well as 330m glass bottles.
Mr Butler said: “The way I think it’s going to go mainstream is through actually being a health alternative to soft drink by actually mimicking the flavour profiles to a large extent of the “traditional” soft drink. We have a cola flavour that tastes a lot like the red label stuff.
“Especially for convenience stores, it’s about making it easier for people to transition to health,” he said.
According to a report published by Zion Market Research in June 2017, the global Kombucha market was valued at around $1062 billion USD in 2016 and is expected to reach a value of $2457 billion USD by 2022.
Mr Condon said: “You only need to look at the kombucha market in the US as a guide, where kombucha is the fastest growing market in the functional beverages category.”
“There are whole large fridges dedicated to kombucha in some US supermarkets, like what you see for milk here [in Australia], and it’s even available in Target.”
Remedy Kombucha is currently ranged in a number of convenience stores and continues to roll out its product to other branded convenience stores.
“As consumers continue to vote with their dollars for products that support a healthy organism, and share their new found love on social media, it seems obvious that kombucha has not even hit its peak.”
Mr Butler said it was his job to track and understand trends in health and nutrition, and that Liquefy are experts in shelf stable products.
“Traditionally Kombucha was sold out of the fridge, but that’s changing,” he said.
“What we’re seeing with the big players in America, we’re seeing the move from refrigerated komchua to kombucha that is sold ambient.
“The probiotics in kombucha are actually much healthier at a room temperature than they are when they’re refrigerated.
“We’re going to see more and more health stable kombucha but there’s a bit of understanding and education to go with it. In Australia we’re going to see a lot of shelf-stable Kombucha pop up.
“It makes it easier for convenience stores to have their deliveries arrive in cartons.”
According to Kombuchabrewers.org the industry is thriving and is showing no signs of slowing down.
“With continued 30% growth in the natural channel and 50% growth (or more) in the conventional channel year after year, kombucha is the fastest growing functional beverage category,” the site said.