Virtual KombuchaKon – Day 1

The Virtual KombuchaKon 2020 replaced the canceled in-person meeting scheduled for Long Beach last April. On Day One, KBI President Hannah Crum welcomed over 70 brewers from around the world with an appreciation of the resilience it takes to bounce-back from the various challenges 2020 delivered. From COVID-19 to West Coast wildfires, people have had to build connections, like the SCOBY filaments generated by bacteria & yeast, to reach further into the kombucha community and strengthen relationships.

One of the beneficial side effects of the conference was the opportunity to meet others in informal Zoom chat rooms that were interwoven into the formal Agenda. I was pleased to connect with companies in Northern Ireland, India, and Latin America and add them to the Booch News Worldwide Directory.

Kombucha Market Analysis

Perteet Spencer from SPINS reviewed the current state of the market. In the USA markets that SPINS tracks (absent kombucha on tap, on-premise sales, and some outlets like Costco and Amazon). Growth in the category has slowed to 2.4% as the market overall passed $700 million. This contrasts with a robust 9.4% compound annual growth in consumer packaged goods altogether. Kombucha occupies one slice in an increasingly crowded beverage category.

The highest rates of growth are in categories other than ‘booch.

One surprise (for me) is that two of the well-known brands are losing momentum in natural foods stores, while others are gaining.

Three trends

Perteet listed three emerging trends:

  • Larger-sized containers such as the 48oz GT’s bottles.
  • “Fermented reinvented” milder products like such as Health-Ade Booch Pop.
  • Growth in the hard kombucha category.

Crisis management while scaling up

Toby Tull and David Aycock from Bare Bucha reviewed the challenges facing all brewers with inevitable crises in production, which range from stalled brews to a moldy SCOBY.

They identified the three ingredients as:

  • A sufficient quantity starter liquid or “broth” to kick-start fermentation.
  • The sweet tea that will be fermented
  • The pellicle or cellulose SCOBY.

The broth is a commercial brewer’s biggest asset. They require their larger customers to give them enough advance notice of big orders that they have at least one brewing cycle to ensure they have enough starter to scale up.

They emphasized the importance of enforcing regular testing of alcohol, sugar, and acetic acid levels with results recorded in a dated logbook. They invested in the Rida Cube from R-Biopharm to ensure accurate test results.

A liability is when acids in the brew become a carbon source. This might happen if sugar is minimized, and the common symptom is a watery, tasteless ferment. Measuring pH levels alone won’t catch this, since total titratable acids can mask the drop in acetic acids. Toby has a column in the Fall 2020 SYMBIOSIS Magazine, which explains the importance of measuring acetic acid in detail.

Space Planning

Thad Fisco and Patrick Walsh from Portland Kettle Works highlighted the need for intelligent space planning when leasing or buying brewery space.

They provided a useful checklist of what to look for when deciding if a building works for a brewery

Thad and Patrick advise hiring a real estate attorney to negotiate a lease and look for landlords to co-fund customization of space in soft rental markets. The key is understanding the difference in price per square foot in industrial areas suitable for production vs. prime retail space ideal for taprooms. If you choose the latter, be sure the traffic will support the extra cost.

Self-care for entrepreneurs

Daina from Health-Ade hosted Matt W. from Humm Kombucha, Matt T. from Brew Dr., Tanya from Craft Kombucha, and Alex from Pilot Kombucha, who discussed the challenges entrepreneurs face and the strategies they use to keep sane. All agree that running your own company requires you to take care of yourself and your family and not let the business get you down.

Small business roundtable

Hannah hosted Barbara from BWild and Chris from Spring Branch, who answered a wide range of questions from the small brewers on the call. These ranged from how they survived the effects of COVID (home delivery, increased store sales, curbside pickup, and some socially distanced farmers markets) to production methods, labeling requirements, and e-commerce tools.

Hard Kombucha

There were a series of break-outs on hard kombucha that I didn’t attend. These included Brewers Association Chief Economist Bart Watson talking about the hard kombucha segment from the craft beer perspective, a presentation by Kyle Oliver of Boochcraft, and folks from Lazy Beach Brewing, Dr. Hops and Local Roots answering attendee questions.

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