Kombucha products have a long history, which started in ancient Chinese culture. In a past couple of years, kombucha beverages have become the new thing with huge popularity among consumers. Last summer we asked two US-based brands what it takes to become a competitive kombucha brand in this market. Today, I have the opportunity to talk to Melanie Millin, Founder & Chief Brewer at Love Kombucha.
I had been looking for a solution to help with the chronic IBS that had been gradually getting worse for about 10 years. I had tried various dietary changes but nothibg really seemed to have any significant impact. It was then that I read about fermented foods and started looking at gut health. I tried the traditional sauerkraut and kimchi, but as much as I wanted to, I just didn’t enjoy the taste. Then I read about kombucha! A fizzy drink that potentially could have an impact on my gut health (and help me kick my coca-cola habit) sounded much more palatable.
Actually, I wanted to just purchase some, but I couldnlt really find any in the UK. However, upon searching, I realized what a huge industry it was becoming in the US and bought a brewing kit to make some for myself…. And so it evolved. From a glass jar on my kitchen counter, to 25litre brewing buckets in the converted spare room, and now 4 years on, a dedicated brewery producing 36,000 bottles each month and now sold in over 700 stores in about 8 countries (It is easy to lose track!)
Cashflow is always an issue for any start up, but in manufacturing even more so. The time from outlay of initial funds to having a finished product to sell is significant and then you still have credit terms to contend with. If I had known at the start what I know now, I potentially wouldn’t have got started at all. But sometimes blind ignorance can be a good thing…. Passion and belief in your product can carry you through a LOT. That and the unwavering support of friends and family of course!
I am always considering new flavours… but in the last quarter we grew 66% so often my focus is taken away from the new ideas to just ensure that we are keeping up with current and future demands. Just when you think you have settled into a rhythm and can divert your attention to NPD, you have a growth spurt and have to pull your attention back. There will be new flavours, but I won’t commit to when.
Goodness…. Well the the main driver for starting Love Kombucha (apart from sharing the fact it had hugely helped my IBS) was being able to spend more time with my son. He was 5 when I discovered kombucha. I was a single mum working long hours in a full time job and as a result he used to live with my Mother during the week so she could take him to school and I could keep working.
Although I probably now work harder than I ever did before, it is on my terms and that meant my son could come back and live with me. I have never missed a sports day or parents evening because of work since, so I suppose you could say he is the biggest inspiration in my life. My fiancé Craig is a huge driving force too and has kept me going when it all seemed impossible.
From an industry perspective, I have lots of respect for Innocent. I particularly love the quirky way the communicate with their customers. I think showing your own personality within your brand is so important.
Actually, we export to The Netherlands, Iceland and Austria. Some of our UK based distributors also export to customers in France and Singapore. Making the forst export sale was a challenge, but since we ‘broke the seal’ the orders have come thick and fast. We still have capacity and are looking to add additional European locations to our list, but thankfully as one of the most well established kombucha brands, we have many people that approach us
Honestly….? Everyone! But that’s a bit mind boggling, so we break it down into smaller categories. Groups who are naturally more inclined to look at labels and consider the quality of what they put into their bodies is a good starting place because there is obvious synergy. Our product is naturally vegan, fits with the paleo lifestyle, is non alcoholic and very low sugar. How many soft drinks can actually say that? Raising awareness of what kombucha is (and should be) has been one of the biggest challenges, but once people have heard about it they tend to buy into why it’s a good thing.
Our social media strategy is all about awareness and education. We are in a really exciting time when the science behind gut health and fermented foods is getting more and more focus so there are always new educational and scientific articles to share and promote healthy discussion. We are lucky to have a loyal (and vocal) following so its great to see people sharing their experience of Love Kombucha on Instagram and other platforms.
I do believe that over the next 2 years kombucha will break out of it’s niche and into the mainstream. So I expect to see it available in supermarkets and convenience stores. Hopefully Love Kombucha will still be leading the way. We are active members of Kombucha Brewers International which is the global body representing kombucha. This means we are able to keep abreast of the developments in the US market which is about 5 years ahead of the UK. I want to build a globally recognides brand that outher companies look up to and want to emulate.
Don’t do it!!!! No, I am kidding… I suppose the most important thing is to be sure that there is a demand and a place for your product. Do your research, who will buy it and why? Get the price point correct and be prepared for the long slog. Lastly, unless you are completely crazy, don’t try and manufacture and sell. Most people (myself included) can’t be good at everything, so work out where you strongest skills lie.
If they are in sales and marketing, then find a manufacturer to make the product on your behalf and you focus on selling. If you are the best at making it then that will take most of your focus and I would consider partnering with a sales agent of marketing company.
This is the one piece of advice I wish I had been given when I started. Of course I probably would have ignored it and learned the hard way, but I don’t doubt that we would have grown more quickly had I shared the load.
For more information visit Love Kombucha website.