Kombucha eyes growth in new markets

Touted as the ultimate functional beverage, kombucha is a well known, strong performer in the US market with a rabid fan base, while in the UK and Europe, kombucha is still working to establish itself, but its popularity is growing. By Kathryn Brand

Depending who and where you ask, kombucha ranges from a niche beverage that people have heard of but do not know what it is, to a beverage and lifestyle staple. However, there is no argument that, globally, it is a growing category, situated in the ready-to-drink (RTD) tea market, which is also growing. This growth is driven by four macro trends, according to London-based Momo Kombucha’s co-founder, Josh Puddle, which are “gut health, low sugar, alcohol alternatives and vegetarianism/veganism.”

Consisting of fermented tea, using a live culture of bacteria, known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), fruit flavours are often then added to create a naturally low-sugar, lightly sparkling probiotic drink, sometimes with a naturally occurring ABV of around 0.5 per cent, however many manufacturers remove this alcohol content to bypass possible restrictions.

Thought to originate in China, one of the largest markets for kombucha is currently the United States. A 2015 Mintel report found that nearly one quarter of US consumers were drinking kombucha, half of which were aged 25-34. However, the market has grown significantly since then so the figures are now likely higher — and it is still growing. Future Market Insights Kombucha Market Outlook report forecasts kombucha to globally experience a CAGR of 17.4 percent from 2022 to 2033, or a rise from USD $3.4 billion to $17.1 billion.

The US is one of the most developed kombucha markets, and therefore is experiencing innovation in the category, such as Caffe Luxxe’s coffee kombucha, brewed from the company’s own coffee as a base rather than tea, to “provide the energising effects of coffee in combination with the probiotic benefit of kombucha,” said Gary Chau, co-founder of south California-based Caffe Luxxe. Kombucha is highly popular among Californians, which Chau credits to the regional trend of lifestyle wellness and holistic health.

California was also the host state of Kombucha Kon, which saw its third annual installment in April. This conference and expo is targeted specifically at the kombucha industry, offering networking across the kombucha supply chain. “Medium-large and better-distributed US brands were represented, including Brew Dr., Bambucha, Flying Embers and Local Roots,” commented Jason Walker, marketing director of Firsd Tea North America, who attended the conference.

Where the US market is reaching maturity, in Europe, in particular the UK, whilst showing strength, the category is still establishing itself and growing its popularity base, with companies mostly trying to make themselves known and educate consumers on what kombucha is and the health benefits it offers, since this is what draws most consumers to the products, and then draws them back. One company already has an advantage in this respect; Yorkshire Tea, a household name in the UK for everyday black tea, is launching a line of kombucha in collaboration with kombucha brand, HOLOS Kombucha, brewed from its own tea. It is still in its trial phase and not yet available to consumers, however, attendees  at the London Coffee Festival, which took place in April, were able to sample the new line. Several other kombucha companies also exhibited at the annual event.

Millennials drive category growth

Kombucha is heralded as the ultimate functional beverage, serving as a probiotic, which contains live microorganisms intended to contribute to healthy levels of good bacteria in the gut, supporting digestion and boosting immunity. Kombucha companies are tapping into the wellness trend that strengthened during the Covid-19 pandemic, and offering a healthy, alcohol-free beverage that also tastes good.

Momo’s Puddle said that the main consumer demographic of its kombucha are millennials, primarily 25 to 45 year olds, which concurs with Fact.MR’s report detailing millennial’s rising adoption of bottled tea. However Caffe Luxxe’s Chau shared that its kombucha is sold generally to those “interested in an overall health and wellness lifestyle.”

That statement is supported by Anna Dominey, UK general manager at Remedy Drinks, an Australia-based kombucha company that dominates in its origin country as well as in the UK market, who says that it appeals to “those who are rejecting processed foods and drinks in favour of more natural alternatives and by those who are looking to cut down on alcohol or drink more mindfully.”

It is evident that the main driver of the kombucha category is its health benefits as well as the offering of an alcohol alternative. “Around 20 per cent of Remedy is consumed in the evening, suggesting consumers are enjoying it as a tasty and satisfying alternative to alcohol,” commented Dominey, further indicating the growing partnership between the low and no alcohol trend, and the functional/wellness beverage trend.

Beverage companies are tapping into this demand, according to Puddle, “more brands are creating products specifically for this segment, eg, kombucha in champagne-style and beer-style bottles.” An example of this is Mighty Brew, which, alongside its core range which retails at a price point of approximately £5.66 (USD $7.08) for 750ml, it offers a more premium ‘Heritage’ format at approximately £11.00 ($13.76) for 750ml which is housed in a champagne-style bottle, complete with cork and cage. Mighty Brew’s Heritage range is marketing itself as an alternative to alcoholic bubbly beverages at celebratory occasions.

Tapping into current trends

This functional/wellness and low and no category overlaps significantly with those incentivised by sustainability claims, therefore, most kombucha brands cite accolades accordingly, such as Momo achieving certified organic and B Corp status. Further, Remedy endeavours to source high quality, all natural ingredients; “This was the way Sarah and Emmet [Remedy’s founders] did it when they started on the kitchen counter, and they still take an active role in sourcing the best ingredients from trusted suppliers,” revealed Dominey. “We know where every single ingredient in our drinks comes from, right down to even our live culture,” she continued. Similarly, Caffe Luxxe builds sustainable relationships with its coffee farmer partners to provide consistent and fair prices.

Looking ahead, Future Market Insights (FMI) Kombucha Market Outlook report finds that it is “unlikely that consumer demand for fermented goods may decline anytime soon,” with the millennial generation’s focus on healthy eating fuelling the demand. However, to increase its consumer base, the kombucha market needs to actively promote its health benefits to attract the older consumer, as well as work on becoming more cost-effective, as it currently sits in the more premium category in most markets. FMI’s report also details that the category can take advantage of novel flavours to attract consumers and tap into the increasingly adventurous flavour palates of the consumer.

  • Kathryn Brand is an associate editor on T&CTJ, while still writing for several of Bell’s other magazines. She joined Bell Publishing as an editorial assistant at the beginning of 2022 after graduating from the University of East Anglia with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. She may be reached at: [email protected].

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