The Gary Leigh Interview – Part 2 of 2
Gary Leigh, the owner of Go Kombucha is the founder of England’s original commercial kombucha business. Part One covered the company’s origins and the direct-to-consumer varieties sold. In Part Two, he shares his views on the risks he sees in using plastic-lined aluminum cans, the challenges anyone starting a commercial business faces, and the overall state of the industry.
According to Gary, challenges faced by larger investor-financed and smaller “Ma & Pa” kombucha companies are daunting. In support of these opinions, he notes others are now acknowledging the slow acceptance of kombucha among the UK public. This is despite, as I have seen first-hand, the ready availability of vegan, vegetarian, and other ‘alternative’ foods in Britain — perhaps betraying an inherent conservatism in taste regarding beverages. Gary sees “tree-hugging vegans” as a minority of the 60 million in the UK.
He wants people to know that it is “bloody hard work making any money at this,” given that the first movers have claimed the limited shelf space.
Indeed, it seems that availability in the UK is a fraction of that in the States. Take a look at the chiller in my local Safeway in the blue-collar town of Vallejo:
Will this ever be seen in Britain?
Even for people who want to stay small and are not interested in national distribution, perhaps limiting themselves to farmers’ markets and local cafes, Gary claims that “this will never make you a full-time living.” He advises against taking on any debt. Gary says it’s taken him 20 years to arrive at a point where he makes “a very nice living.” But it takes patience.
Booch News would love to hear from small brands in the UK who have cracked the code and are succeeding in this business!
Supporting Gary’s claims about the challenges this industry faces in the UK, we recently took a brief look at the UK Companies House data when discussing the failure rate of UK and California kombucha companies. This showed that, as with many startups, few succeed past the first few years.
Gary provided an additional list of the holding company names of some of the biggest brands and pointed to the publicly available financials, which, he claims, paint a dire picture. Take a look at the following prominent UK brands. Click the “Accounts” box to download the most recent financials as a PDF. Assets and liabilities are listed together with amounts due to creditors. Some reports disclose additional information.
- Equinox Kombucha: The Flower of Life Ltd
- Fix8 Kombucha: YMW Ltd
- Genie Kombucha: Genie Drinks Ltd
- Go Kombucha: Gaia Brands Ltd
- Hip Pop Kombucha: Insightful Brands Ltd
- Holos Kombucha: Holos London Ltd
- Jarr Kombucha: Jarr Kombucha Ltd
- LA Brewery: Better Tasting Drinks Ltd
- Left Field Kombucha: Leftfield Kombucha Ltd
- Lo Bros: Soul Fresh U.K. Ltd
- Mighty Brew Kombucha: Balanced Nature Ltd
- Momo Kombucha: Momo Kombucha Ltd
- Nexba Kombucha: Nexba Drinks U.K. Ltd
- No.1 Drinks: 3BW Ltd
- Real Kombucha: The Real Brewing Company Ltd
- Remedy Kombucha: Remedy Drinks U.K. Ltd
Disclaimer: I’m not an accountant, and there might be a level of detail behind the numbers (such as investor funding, loans, or personal assets) that tells a different story. However, the total negative equity of these 16 UK brands totals around £7 million ($9 million). Only five of this list (including Go Kombucha) reported positive 2022 numbers. However, some of the world’s largest companies lost money for years — which works if you have deep pockets. Do you?
Gary is a firm believer is the importance of packaging in glass bottles. He’s against the growing trend of switching to aluminum cans. In addition to the potential health risks of acidic liquids leaching chemicals from the plastic lining, he sees the growth in cans as sending a “mixed message” to consumers looking for a quality product.
He names Kombucha Kat, Fix8, and others as having alienated consumers by switching to cans.
In 2017, maverick UK range Kombucha Kat announced that it was switching to “lacquered” – i.e. plastic-lined – cans, spurred on by similar moves afoot across the Atlantic. And so set in motion a domino effect whereby established ranges such as Wild Fizz, Jarr, Fix8, even the ethically-led Equinox Kombucha, succumbed to the temptation that packing kombucha in cans offered…Any kombucha aficionado who’s ever drunk processed kombucha from a can lined with porous polymer plastic comprising over 200 chemicals will tell you that the taste bears only a passing resemblance to authentic, whole kombucha that kicks from a glass bottle, itself made, like traditional kombucha, with just four natural ingredients; sand, soda, ash and limestone.No Can Do! Why We Have Bottled In Glass For 20+ Years
Be sure to tune in to the podcast to hear Gary’s concerns. If you have any opinions about his views, please leave comments here on the blog or social media.