Kombucha Summit Berlin: By the numbers
Over 150 attendees from 39 countries attended the Kombucha Summit (KS22) in Berlin last weekend. The program listed 96 brands that registered and had been asked to state the volume of kombucha they brew per month.
An anonymous survey, distributed during my presentation at the close of the Saturday program, was returned by a quarter of brands at the event, as follows:
While only six of the 59 brands producing under 500L a month returned surveys, 40% of the brands producing 501-2,000L and 2,001-5,000L shared responses. Just two brands producing 5,001-10,000L responded, and none of the eight who made up the largest producers.
Time to launch commercially
Despite the relatively low rate of return, the results offer some interesting insights. We asked, ‘How long was it between the date you brewed your first kombucha (at home) and when you started producing commercially?‘ This revealed that the people who took longer to prepare to open a commercial brewery had larger volumes. This isn’t surprising, given that many novice home brewers scale up slowly, while those with more experience who take time to launch may well have more capital behind them and can fund larger operations.
The 23 brands reported the number of part- and full-time employees totaled 70 people. It would be fascinating to know how many jobs were created by all 96 brands. I’m guessing a few hundred. At the smaller end of the scale, these were often owner-operators and their partners who worked part-time as kombucha brewers and kept their day jobs. At the other end of the scale, most were staffed by full-time workers. However, there was a significant variation in liters per employee. One brand producing 2,000L a month employed six full-timers, while two other brands made the same amount with just one or two full-time people. One brand producing 5,000L employed ten full-time, and the other three in that category employed five people each. Only one of the brands that produced 10,000L responded to the survey. They employed four full-time and three part-time.
We asked the brands how many locations stocked their kombucha. The number of locations varied, not always correlated to size. Of the six brands reporting this number who produce under 500L a month, two had 20 spots each. The other four had just a couple. Moving up, of the brands producing 501-2,000L, one had 100, the rest between 20 and 30 each. This was also the case with the next group. One had 170, the rest between 20-30. The breakout came with the two largest brands. One had 200, the other 400. We can safely assume that the larger brands use distributors and are in multi-unit chain stores. Needless to say, in the world’s largest market–the USA–leading brands like GTs and Health-Ade number locations in the thousands.
We asked what percent of product was distributed in glass bottles, cans, or on tap. The vast majority were 100% in bottles. One was mainly in cans, and another planned to switch to cans. Seven had between 1% and 15% on tap.
The biggest challenge
The responses were free-form text that fell into four main groups
- Sales and marketing challenges were mentioned by 40% of the brands. These ranged from distribution to educating the local market in regions where kombucha was still unknown.
- Finance and cash flow was the biggest challenge mentioned by 30% of brands. There were specific challenges around scaling up and financing growth without giving away equity.
- 15% faced the challenge of brewing a stable and consistent product.
- 11% mentioned cold-chain distribution as the main challenge.
Other brands left this field blank. Perhaps their only challenge is filling out surveys late on a Saturday!
This was a very informal survey delivered quickly without the opportunity to answer questions or discuss the findings. Kombucha conferences offer a unique opportunity to collect this kind of data and I would like to thank the KS22 organizers for letting me poll the attendees.
We’ve just scratched the surface. It would be fascinating to find answers to questions such as:
- How does number of liters, employees, and locations differ by country?
- What is the average selling price?
- What is the typical wage for a brew master?
- How many hours a week does the average owner work?
- What does the balance sheet look like at the end of the year and when does the investment in this business pay off?
- What are the most popular flavors, by country?
- How do brands control ABV?
- What is the growth in sales year-over-year?
- How many brands started at a farmers market and sold out of product on the first day?
- What production options are favored – glass or stainless steel, size of brewing vessel, scaling up or scaling out?