The Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Kombucha Industry
As the coronavirus continues to spread, kombucha companies around the world are reporting a significant impact on their businesses and consumer behavior. While some have temporarily shut their doors, others are trying new survival strategies.
We begin by hearing how small businesses in one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries are managing.
On the west coast of Spain, Naya Bravo, owner of Meraki Ferments, noted the impact on her business of the sudden lockdown that the Spanish government declared on Saturday, March 14 :
Since I am in a very small town, I can go to the brewery every day to work and ship boxes. At the moment, I’m waiting for a pallet of printed bottles that was supposed to be here yesterday, and no one has said anything.
I have 500 liters of one flavor that has to be bottled on Friday, and without the pallet, I don’t really know what I will do. Maybe put it in barrels and transfer it later to the bottles when they get here?.
I also have to deal with silly stuff like sellotape, bubble wrap, etc. We buy what we need for the month, and the country collapsed so quickly that we did not have time to order everything. Stores are buying but not paying right away, but we do have to try to supply the brewery with everything we need for the next month. So it is a bit of a Catch-22.
We are staying positive, we understand the lockdown needs to happen, and we hope the government gives an economic relief to companies like ours.
Over on the other side of Spain in Barcelona, Kendra Sepulveda of Probio Drinks has closed her Casa De La Kombucha taproom. She reports that they have moved to focus on home delivery and re-stocking súpermarkets. They are operating with a skeleton crew and have decreased production to a minimum.
Some of their team have been able to continue working from home. They are hopeful this will not last long so they can pick up where they left off. Kendra takes a philosophical approach:
Our perspective is that Mother Earth needed a break, and we have to respect that. We are taking this opportunity to slow down and appreciate what we have. We have to confront this with optimism and find all the opportunities to adapt and make us stronger.
This term has suddenly become part of everyday life. For some, it means closing taprooms, for others, a renewed focus on home delivery or mail order shipments.
Camino Kombucha in Philadelphia, PA, announced a Social Distancing Special: A 4-pack delivery to your door for just $15! Our priority is keeping you and our community safe and healthy, and we hope to bring a bit of joy to you, even in uncertainty.
Owner Nohra Murad went on to say
This is a bummy time to be any food business, let alone a scrappy kombucha startup. There are so many bittersweet announcements we were looking forward to making, like our farmer’s market plans, our city approval to sell kombucha and snacks in Love Park, and hopefully new places to find Camino and new employees to introduce. But for now, it’s still just me, figuring out how to get by with what I’ve got. Still, I am grateful for the chance to provide a little glimmer of hope to you in this little capacity. Make sure to also check out the places we stock, many of whom are still doing pickup or delivery service!
Many brands have posted updates on social media, advising customers about their response to the changed situation.
Here’s a great video from Daniella at Kombucha do Forte in São Paulo, Brazil. It shows that they are wearing masks and proceeds to reassure customers about preventive sanitation (via Google Translate)
Hi, I’m Daniella, partner at Kombucha do Forte along with Dináura. I came to talk a little bit here with you about the process of making our kombucha.
Many customers already know, our processes are judicious and rigorous in terms of hygiene and cleaning. And attention is now being redoubled by the new coronavirus.
All of our equipment and utensils are washed and sterilized before and after using them. We always wear this outfit that I’m showing you, like a cap, mask, gloves, apron. And we always have 70% alcohol on hand — it is our great ally in hygiene.
All raw materials received are of the highest quality, and are handled with great care. We sanitize all the bottles with 70% alcohol before they are placed in the boxes that go out for delivery. When they arrive at your home, rest assured, just remove the bottles from the packaging, store them in the refrigerator and discard the shipping container.
Connecting with the Community
While some businesses are having to work under strict quarantine guidelines, others are reaching out to the public in new ways. Zachary Smith, the owner of Lively Up Kombucha, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, brews because of “an imperative desire to nurture symbiosis.” He writes:
The coronavirus has blindsided us, as it has blindsided many businesses. In Michigan, all restaurants, cafes, breweries, and service-based businesses are required only to provide takeout service, and not to allow more than five people in a building.
This has deeply affected our sales with those establishments. However, grocery stores and marketplaces are at record-breaking high sales. We have noticed more kombucha purchases from local health food stores and grocery stores, along with hearing about products like elderberry syrups, supplements, tonics, and other well known immune boosters spike.
We have decided to connect with the community more than ever. People need support right now. We are opening our doors to the public while we are in production (we are not a retail site, only production) so that people can fill their fridges with our kombucha at an affordable price. The response has been so flattering and relieving. We have been selling cases all day today, while also giving the public the opportunity to see our brewery.
We see this breakout as an opportunity rather than a challenge. It is inspiring us to get more creative and to explore options we haven’t explored yet. The feedback the last few days is opening us up to the idea of making retail a permanent thing for us.
We have not had issues with staff or distribution, despite many cafes and coffee shops closing around us. This won’t be the easiest hurdle, but we have already connected with other kombucha breweries in the state and are communicating positivity. We have faith in the community and in ourselves. We are planning for a great year. This is going to raise people’s awareness worldwide about the benefits of consuming more products like kombucha and making lifestyle changes.
Meanwhile, In Los Angeles, Jeremiah Tash of Jarring Foods is planning to connect with customers at Farmers’ Markets in the region:
The coronavirus has frozen all my collaborations with restaurants, coffee shops, and yoga studios. Mercifully, farmers’ markets are open, and we participate in five of them around LA County, so we can keep that revenue stream active. I was also able to order a palette of bottles this week, and sourcing ingredients hasn’t been an issue, so I actually have more time than ever to devote to fermenting and bottling; hopefully, the demand will keep up with our higher output. Lastly, we are looking into creating a delivery/subscription-based platform, but for now, the markets’ are the best place to find us.
Tonya Donati, the co-founder of Mother Kombucha, located St. Petersburg, Florida, posted an inspiring message on Instagram asking for people to share comments about how people can help one another at this time. They reported that the ideas they’ve heard include:
- Having kids at home send letters to the elderly in long term care/assisted living.
- Volunteer to deliver food to at risk in the community.
- Offer food to children families in need who are struggling.
- Share websites and contacts for assistance and resources.
This is a challenging and anxious time for all of us, and we really are all in this together as community members, consumers, and co-inhabitants of planet earth.
Our immediate concern is how to keep our team and our community safe and well. We have instituted all the recommended policies for cleanliness/sanitizing and work from home for the non-production team. We consistently check-in with every team member, making sure they have one-to-one time to express concerns, challenges or just share a dark plague joke!
We have daily partner “war room” meetings to identify opportunities, redirect our focus, and adjust our planning for 2020.
As a company that is health-conscious, earth-conscious and people-conscious we are always assessing how we can be of service to our community in this difficult time.
The number one skills needed at this time are empathy, flexibility, and open communication.
As a business, we saw a sharp uptick in our grocery/off-premise sales and almost 100% loss in on-premise. Not being able to have demos or events made our number one marketing approach nonexistent, so we are re-directing people and mind-power in other ways to support our brand via digital, eComm, and community outreach.
Adam Vanni, of Jarr Kombucha, isn’t letting the virus hold his company back. Since partnering with Belgian family-owned brewery Duvel Moortgat in 2018, they have continued to expand. In two weeks, they will relocate their entire production from their original base in East London to Belgium. The new facility features three 20,000 liter fermentation tanks and bespoke, state of the art aeration, pressurization, heating, and cooling technology. Adam has been sharing sneak peeks of their new facility on Instagram and reports:
We are carrying on with production as usual but listening carefully to the recommendations from the government on what to do going forward. We are still able to produce and sell here in the UK, but our London brewery will be closed permanently in the next two weeks. This was already a decision made months ago as we’ve built a new state-of-the-art brewery in Belgium.
Meanwhile, on the coast of North Wales, Alana of Blighty Booch shared her feelings on social media about how their company has responded by continuing to ferment and offering customers free shipping:
It feels very strange writing this post. I’m not even quite sure how to share all the thoughts running through my head…suffice to say that they are accompanied by a non-stop soundtrack of R.E.M.’s ‘It’s the end of the world as we know it”… Emotions are all over the place; Mark and I are worried about our loved ones, ourselves, everyone we know and those we don’t.
So here is a picture of my rather large reading pile to catch up on and my crocheting which helps me relax. Self-isolation is what we have decided on as a family, particularly to protect our vulnerable members with underlying health conditions.
This does not mean that we are closing the Blighty Booch “Boochery” – we are operating a ‘closed system’ between it and our home. Our SCOBY mothers still need caring for, so we will be in there making kombucha. Normally we are sending out to cafe’s, restaurants, deli’s and health food shops but things look like they are going to be very different for the next bit. So on that note, we want to make it easier for our customers to get their Booch at home. All orders through our website over £35 get free shipping with the code freeship20.
Look after yourselves and each other.
It’s said that humor is the best medicine. The folks at Equinox Kombucha in the Yorkshire village of Hebden Bridge shared this on Twitter and Instagram:
While policy responses vary from country to country, the (Craft Beer) Brewers Association surveyed members about the impact of the virus on their business. When asked to rank the policy responses that would be most helpful over the next month, these USA companies listed the following:
- Make unemployment insurance available for all temporarily laid off or furloughed employees, with no long term negative impact on employers’ insurance premiums.
- Create a compensation fund for businesses affected by the coronavirus crisis
- Suspend payroll taxes.
- Paid quarantine leave for employees of businesses shut down due to quarantine (minimum of 14 days maximum of 30).
- TTB ( Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) treatment of National Emergency the same as they would a natural disaster, and waive penalties on late excise tax payments.
- Loan deferments for up to two months with no interest accruals from commercial lenders.
- Paid sick leave for people who don’t have benefits through their employer (minimum of 14 days, maximum of 30).
- Increased funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) for low/no-interest loans.
- Immediate loan payment deferment on SBA loans with no interest accruals.
- Cash transfers to individual Americans.
Kombucha Brewers International (KBI)
KBI has established a Coronavirus Resource Center with links to the CDC, WHO, and Departments of Public Health. You’ll find links to lists of disinfectants for use against the virus, food prep standards, and more.
KBI President Hannah Crum comments:
These are challenging times. We are a young industry, and many of our members are small companies operating on tight margins. However, by working together, sharing what we can in terms of information and resources, and staying connected with our local communities, we can remain resilient.
That’s not to minimize the threat this represents. We need to stay tuned in to what is a rapidly changing situation.
We need to be willing to think outside the box. Be flexible. Try new approaches. Ask around, you’d be surprised where you might find help. Call your bank and ask to defer loan payments. Ask suppliers if you can schedule payments over a longer period.
Above all, look out for each other. For your employees, your neighbors, and your families. Stay safe, and stay positive.
No-one knows. But if you have information that would be useful to the worldwide community of kombucha brewers, please share it in the comments below.
There’s a possible silver lining for kombucha companies in this report from a company detecting a sudden rise in online searches for foods with functional benefits, including kombucha.
Meanwhile, in Alaska, The Peninsula Clarion reports that Kenai Kombucha shuts its doors to safeguard health:
BevNet reports that COVID-19 poses marketing challenges and legal risks for brands. They quote attorney Justin Prochnow:
A second lawyer warned “…that naming the coronavirus at all in messaging could put companies in murky waters. As well, she advised CEOs to take caution when discussing the virus on their personal social media accounts — though they may afford themselves some distance from their companies by speaking as individuals, they could still be considered brand representatives and face legal repercussions.”
Daina Trout, co-founder and CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha, is quoted saying the brand has seen an increase in sales of its Ginger Lemon SKU due to the perceived health benefits of ginger but the company has been cautious of making claims or drawing connections to COVID-19. However, Trout said the brand is looking to “tastefully educate” consumers by promoting the proven health benefits of its products, including links to scientific research, without drawing explicit connections to the virus.
It looks like Alana of Blighty Booch inspired a trend. Here’s a similar picture from Well Kombucha in Brazil:
Moon Rabbit Kombucha on Washington’s Pacific Coast has taken a pragmatic view:
It’s not just commercial brewers who are stepping up to provide this healthy beverage to their communities. Here’s a Florida homebrew lady sharing with friends and neighbors who posted this update on the @BoochNews Instagram:
Thanks to @hoochabrewing in Petaluma, California for all you are doing!
And then there are those who see more than tea & sugar fermenting in the present moment.
This perspective from Lighthouse Kombucha, Kauai.
There’s a *whole lot* of companies now doing home delivery, kerbside pickup and other ‘distancing-friendly’ ways of getting kombucha to customers.
Stealth Naked Kombucha in Wellsley, Mass has some experience.
Latest update from Krister Hall of The Good Guys Kombucha in Finland is that
Baba’s Bucha in Pennsylvania is teaming with other natural foods suppliers
Coastal Craft Kombucha donated cases of kombucha to Mercy Medical Center on Long Island, New York, in recognition of the needs of the front-line healthcare workers.
Kulture Kombucha, on Matha’s Vineyard, Massachusettes, has set up ordering for home delivery on their website with an offer to donate to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital health care workers including housekeeping staff or send free bottles to people on the island who are sick at home.
They include a note about bottle returns:
The medical staff at Sharp Coronado Hospital are enjoying ‘booch supplied by Kombucha on Tap from Oceanside, California.
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rana Chang, the owner of House Kombucha, wrote an impassioned blog post about the challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 presents to small businesses in general, and her own company in particular.