June 16th, 2024

Business Beat:Crazy for kombucha

By Medicine Hat News on August 1, 2018.

The kombucha craze has yet to hit Medicine Hat. Sure, you can buy kombucha on tap at a few local businesses. And of course Costco carries it by the case. But I’m not aware of anyone with plans to make kombucha on a commercial scale. Not yet, anyway.

For the uninitiated, kombucha is a sweetened, fermented tea-based beverage with origins in either Russia or China, depending on who you ask. Kombucha comes in many flavours, has a refreshing vinegar taste, and comes packaged with many purported health benefits, none of which are scientifically proven.

From what I hear, there’s a growing home brew community here in Medicine Hat. Ask around and you’ll find a friend, or a friend of a friend, with a glass container of fermenting tea on the countertop. If you ask nice, they might give you a chunk of their “scoby”, the living home for the bacteria and yeast that transform the sweetened tea into tangy, fizzy kombucha. If you can’t get your hands on fresh scoby, local health food stores have kombucha home brew kits for sale.

Globally, the most recent market research indicates the kombucha business is clocking in with a compound annual growth rate of 15-25 per cent. Much like with craft beer, the kombucha product category didn’t exist before 1990, and has witnessed meteoritic growth since then. In 2014, U.S. sales of bottled kombucha were $400 million, much of that growth at the expense of traditional soda pop and other carbonated beverages. Little wonder PepsiCo purchased kombucha maker KeVita in 2016 for $200 million and change.

Two key factors are driving growth in the kombucha business. First, kombucha is part of the fermented food mega-trend, which consumers perceive as a natural and healthy way to add probiotics to the diet. From pickles to yogurt, fermented food is all the rage right now. According to Kombucha Brewers International, a trade association, “Kombucha provides refreshment, probiotic organisms and nutrition in a living form which leads to a palpable sensation of ‘feeling good’ that is one of the drivers of the exploding marketplace.” Kombucha also appeals to the millennial generation who are in search of novel tastes and flavours, according to market research expert Jim Polliwog. Much like craft beer, no two bottles of kombucha are the same.

Alberta is home to a handful of brand new kombucha breweries. In Calgary, Louisa and Conrad Ferrel opened True BŸch Kombucha in 2014. In Edmonton, Boocha recently completed a successful @ATBBoostR crowdfunding campaign to expand that city’s first kombucha micro-brewery. But it isn’t only the big cities that are getting in on the action. Red Deer has Wild Child Brew, Grande Prairie has Effervescent Tea Co., and Chestermere has Happy Belly.

Which begs the question: Is it it time to start a commercial kombucha business in Medicine Hat? With some 80,000 souls in the immediate trading area, quick and easy access to the Calgary and Edmonton, and growing consumer awareness on the horizon, there’s no reason to think a craft kombucha brewery wouldn’t work in Canada’s sunniest city. Those looking to learn more are encouraged to complete their own due diligence. A good place to start would be Kombuchakon 2019, the nascent industry’s largest trade show, scheduled for April 18 and 19, 2109 in Long Beach, Calif. There you will meet with fellow brewers, connect with potential equipment suppliers, and gather all the information you need to make an informed investment decision and hit the ground running.

Jon Sookocheff is director of business development with Invest Medicine Hat. He can be reached at http://www.investmedicinehat.ca.

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