UK Heatwave: The Effect on Kombucha Brewers

Source: Sky News

The news out of the UK is dire warnings of an unprecedented heatwave July 18 & 19 for a country not accustomed to high temperatures.

For the first time temperatures of 40°C have been forecast in the UK and the Met Office has issued the first ever Red warning for exceptional heat.

“We hoped we wouldn’t get to this situation but for the first time ever we are forecasting greater than 40°C in the UK.” Climate attribution scientist at the Met Office, Dr Nikos Christidis, said.

For readers in the States, the rest of the world reports temperatures in degrees Celsius, which translates as:

  • 30°C = 86°F
  • 35°C = 95°F
  • 40°C = 104°F

This raises the question of the impact of such extremes on kombucha brewers. The ideal fermenting temperature is between 70-80°F, and distribution of most authentic kombucha requires a cold chain from factory to consumer. We asked some of the UK’s producers listed in our Worldwide Directory how the heatwave is affecting them. Here’s what they told us.

Lesley So of Derby’s So Good Kombucha said

We’ve seen an increased demand due to the hot weather. But equally (and more importantly) more over-fermented bottles as a result of the high temperatures and the transportation process. For small authentic producers like us this is a very negative impact indeed, making distribution extremely difficult to manage. 

Lesley posted a reminder on Instagram:

SUMMER IS HEAT – the weather has been scorching hot which is the PERFECT season for a cold kombucha…☀️

So Good Kombucha is raw and unpasteurised – which means that it’s LIVING and will continue to ferment over time. Storing it as chilled as possible above freezing is the most effective way of slowing down fermentation and preventing the product from getting too fizzy – so please do store below 4C and drink fresh where possible before the use-by date! ❄️ So while you’re enjoying the sun – remember to keep your kombucha chilled!

Gary at Go Kombucha had posted an Instagram update on Friday celebrating the fact they had completed bottling ahead of the hot weather:

More aspects of our production this week, just completing the latest run of Yunnan Gold batch 130 just ahead of the incoming heatwave that will have caused insurmountable problems for us were they not bottled and chilled before then!

He explained the challenges they faced and the advantages of their location in the countryside:

We make our kombucha in an open plan winery deep in the English countryside without temperature regulation so always plan our brewing around the long term forecast. We finished bottling our latest batches on Thursday, July 14, and it’s all now in chilled storage. With temperature set to hit 40C on Monday we would not have been able to regulate the temperature in our fermentation tanks and the brew would have been out of our control. We also don’t brew in humid conditions for reasons we have learned over almost 20 years of brewing. Extreme humidity of course mitigates oxygen flow so again that tampers with the brew causing uneven results.

A plus of open plan brewing in the countryside are the clean environment and type of wild yeasts that proliferate that enhance the results, and our on site spring water piped direct from our well located yards away which is 100% imbued with earth energy that aids our brewing process significantly since even with good quality filtering systems there will always he trace detritus from the mains water supply which these days is so contaminated and chemicalised in some regions it can make it significantly more difficult to brew in certain parts of the U.K. than others with a cleaner supply and zero fluoridation.

Twisted Kombucha in London posted a reminder to Instagram that anyone considering a picnic in the park should pack some refreshing kombucha:

Are you picnic-ready this week?…it’s going to be a scorcher, so stay hydrated, refreshed and healthy with our flavourful kombucha.

Andrew with Nunc Living in Buckingham makes jun with honey from the bees they keep on their property. He noted the effect that weather has had on sales this year:

Up until recently we haven’t had a weekend where it’s been sunny all weekend. At these events, when it was overcast/cool (or wet) sales fell off a cliff, but interestingly when it was hot sales of individual cans went up but there was no real impact on large orders (buying 12 cans or more).

So, we do see an increase in D2C sales during Summer – but it’s not as large as we would have thought. However, we do see a very large increase in our trade sales (to shops, etc) and I think that is because they are selling predominantly individual cans and have the footfall – people going in to buy a can with their lunch, or because they want to be refreshed. So stockists are turning over stock a lot quicker.

In regards to sales in current heat wave. No real change to D2C, and if anything we are seeing a slight drop in trade sales and when we ask retailers why, they think it’s because people aren’t getting out as much to avoid the heat (also petrol prices being high is perhaps discouraging people from using their car as much – cutting back on trips out). The fact is the UK is just not set up to deal with heat. When it’s hot, people become hermits in the UK.

I also think, after the numerous events this Summer (we’ve done around 15), the percentage of the UK population knowing what booch is, is still really small. I’m guessing maybe 1 in 10 have heard of booch, and maybe 1 in 5 of those people have tried it. So kombucha is an amazingly refreshing drink, perfectly suited to Summer, but the people who are drinking booch already in the UK are predominantly doing so because of the purported health benefits, and they will continue to buy regardless of the weather. 

I think weather will play a huge part in sales, but not until awareness of booch increases in the UK.

Andrew added that his bees love warm weather:

The bees are loving the sun – the lack of water is their biggest concern though. Every year, the first few weeks of June is a drought for bees over here (no pollen, etc) so they’ve come through that and are now feverishly building their numbers and stock.

Chris with Raw Culture in Aberdeen, Scotland has had no issues with the hot summer, other than increased demand:

So, demand is up. Repeat orders are coming across all our key stockists who are increasing their standard order quantity. 

Other than that there’s not really any effect on our fermentation or production process, as everything is temperature controlled in our fermentation room and then chilled after blending when going to canning. 

Hebe Ibbotson sells her Boo Cha Cha supplies to home brewers. She notes

So for my business, it’s actually been great! Most customers have been reporting a faster than normal fermentation of their home brews which means they can drink more day to day, because the continuous brews are turning round batches quicker than normal!

Indeed her customers have learned how to adapt:

Nicki has said she has managed to nail the continuous brew system with the warmer temperatures, by topping up a small amount at a time, and drinking the kombucha from her jar each day instead of using the storage bottle, which she says she much prefers. It has much more carbonation even after just the first fermentation, which is what the boochacha brew method uses. Meg has been chuffed to give away a couple of SCOBYs and help some friends get brewing, and Robyn has said shes pleased her kombucha is ready much quicker now, and also says that the larger SCOBYs are giving her some more carbonation, even though she likes it when it is flat anyway!

Shakeera, the founder of Kombucha Shack in London reports that some deliveries have been suspended due to the hot weather:

There are no challenges to fermentation as the brewing room is kept at a relatively stable temperature – that being said our brews normally take on average 21-25 days to fully brew and this hasn’t changed at all over the years regardless of season.

The really big challenge is trying to keep everything chilled especially when chillers are struggling in the heat and tend to conk out – absolute disaster!

We have found it challenging with our weekly subscription refills. Since these are only done on one day of the week (Friday) we find that some of our customers are able to be home for receipt and some come home after work and if the booch has been sitting outside the whole day, it’s quite a disappointment to have either exploded bottles, booch eruptions and just spoiled goods in general – we have tried to mitigate this as best as we can by making those deliveries towards the end of the day but have had to miss some deliveries and then promise to deliver double the next. Unfortunately with the extended heatwave this hasn’t worked out so great in some cases.

Our deliveries have had to be suspended due to the hot weather and our couriers not having refrigerated in-transit storage. We have continued our foodies and farmers market sales and have found that our sales have decreased this week and we’re not sure why. Perhaps our customers and visitors to the markets have either opted to stay home to be out of the heat or they’ve gone away on an impromptu staycation / vacation.

Generally being in a cold drinks business our sales increase over the summer but we feel that sales may have decreased due to rising costs of everything and everyone feeling the pinch.

Tai with Old Tree Brewery in Brighton is keeping an eye on temperatures as they scramble to meet increased demand:

So far, we’ve not had any issues from the heat, but we’re a little bit insulated from its effects, thanks to being in the basement here. The temperatures are creeping up, and we’ll have to see how that plays out in the brewery over the next few days. So long as the air temperature in the brewery doesn’t get to 30C, then we’ll be okay. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of temperature control here, so if it does get too hot, there’s only so much we can do about it. The only other time the brewery got into the low 30s, the culture changed, seemingly, irreversibly, and we ended up with strong off-flavours. It was a very difficult situation, and we’re hoping things cool off quickly enough after these next couple of days not to cause too many issues.

In better news, though, we’ve definitely seen an increase in demand, especially for our Lemon Lavender flavour, which we just can’t keep in stock these days. As soon as we’ve made it, it’s gone! Last month was a record month for us, in terms of unit sales and revenue, so I’m hoping we’ll see that continue this month and next as well. When it gets hot, people want refreshing, cold drinks, and we’re glad to see people are choosing an option like ours, which is better for their health and the environment.

Vanessa and Louise at LA Brewery in Suffolk are taking steps to keep their staff safe in higher temperatures:

Our kombucha is produced in a temperature-controlled environment so will not be directly affected by the heatwave.

We have implemented a number of additional measures on site to keep Ops staff safe and well during the higher temperatures. These measures include changing shift patterns to avoid the hottest parts of the day, longer breaks, minimizing outdoor tasks, etc.

In terms of demand, we have seen a predicted seasonal increase in demand for our drinks. However, we are also seeing the general impact of reduced spending as the nation tightens its belts.

Genevive from Equinox has seen an uplift in sales as thirsty Brits reach for cooling drinks:

In terms of the impact of the UK heatwave we do always see a wonderful uplift in our sales as a result of good weather. However this heatwave has been exceptional. We saw our best ever day of sales in UK retailer Waitrose this weekend, selling 3 x the normal rate for a Sat / Sun! Our online direct to customer sales have also taken a nice upturn in the last few days and we accentuated this with a ‘heatwave sale’ ! Overall we have probably seen between 30-50% uplift in sales as a result of the heat. 

In terms of operations, we temperature control much of our production to agreed parameters so this has minimal impact on the product itself however our staff working in the brewery and bottling plants definitely have been feeling the heat. We have tried to amend our production schedules where possible to minimise people working in high temperatures for long hours and have shifted some activity towards the end of the week when temperatures will cool a little! As a B Corp we spend a lot of time working with our staff to make sure we create the best possible working environment for them. I am sure they have appreciated the slow start to the week to allow for the exceptional heat. 

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