Profile: Mother Kombucha — A Woman-Owned Business Making Waves in Florida
In 2014 Tonya Donati and her husband Vic were new parents, as was their business partner Josh, a stay-at-home Dad. Childrearing was front of mind, so naming their new brand Mother Kombucha was natural. After all, who does not love their mother and their mother, SCOBY?
Mother Kombucha is a craft kombucha brand based in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The first 18 months were spent in a small commercial “lab” developing a taste profile suited to the warm Florida climate. They were brewing in 20-gallon batches at home in a tiny kitchen. To differentiate their brand from other kombuchas with a more intense flavor profile, they aimed for a lighter, easy-drinking, more refreshing taste suited to the tropical Florida climate, where someone could easily down three to four bottles a day. The result was a lighter kombucha, with 35 calories and a scant 5g of sugar per 345ml (11.6 fl oz) serving, absent the strong vinegar nose and heavy sugars of other brands. What’s good for the customer is good for business!
They started selling kegs at farmers’ markets and in taprooms, only launching bottles after two years.
Publix was their first supermarket chain, and they now distribute to major chains as well as a growing number of taprooms, coffee bars, restaurants, and more.
A round of angel investment facilitated the move from their original facility to a location with room for four-fold expansion.
Kombucha is an acquired taste that many Americans do not readily enjoy due to the excess of sugary processed foods in the typical diet. They’d heard first-hand from farmers’ market customers who were not open to trying anything ‘kombucha’ – even their lighter flavored version. To meet the demand for a more delicate flavor profile and to offer a better-for-you option than seltzer waters with artificial flavorings, at the end of 2020, they launched the ‘kombucha-infused seltzer’ Agua Bucha. Agua Bucha has only four calories and one gram of sugar per can, aiming to capture a broader market than their kombucha.
Agua Bucha is kombucha-powered sparkling water created from the direct feedback of our consumers. We heard there were some things keeping people from consuming kombucha
–the sugar content and the fermented flavor. Our core product keeps those things low, but it’s still there. The third barrier was the price point. From a business standpoint, the cold chain was an issue. If we could make something that answers all those needs, we would have an opportunity to grow and incrementally bring kombucha to a whole new audience. Agua Bucha is that opportunity. “Agua Bucha tastes like my favorite sparkling water with a twist of lime. It’s my refreshing go-to when I hit the beach, boat, or trails.”
Mother Kombucha is the leading local brand in their home state of Florida and is available in a half-dozen states in the southeast. Agua Bucha is a shelf-stable offering sold in cans. It appeals to the “kombucha curious” and those avoiding the category due to perceived sugar content and the more “sour” fermented taste of core kombucha products. It’s currently available in select Florida Publix and Whole Food Markets. Now, Agua Bucha accounts for 15% of total sales, and they hope to ship nationwide eventually.
Triple Bottom Line – People, Planet, Prosperity
Mother Kombucha is a women-owned business. 60% of the 15 employees are women, working in all aspects of the company.
They officially obtained their B Corp certification in August 2022. Tonya sees this certification as the start of the next part of their journey, not the end. She wants to meet the challenge of using business to solve social and environmental problems. Their facility boasts solar panels, and 100% of their spent teas and cultures are composted at local community gardens. All full-time employees start at or above local living wage levels. As a B Corp, these commitments are baked into their corporate structure to provide a framework that focuses on people, the planet, and prosperity.
We’re out to prove that doing good is good for business. We’ve built our business by making products that are not just delicious and low in sugar and calories but also cleanly sourced and fairly made. We consider the impact of our choices on people and the planet, and we are continually striving to do better.
We’ve searched the world for the best fair-trade organic teas and curated various unique ingredients to complement the flavor of our kombucha. We brew every small batch by hand, the right way, right here in Florida. And we still remember that when you put the best into something, you get the best out of it.
On December 6, 2023, Tonya was a panelist in a Hirshberg Entrepreneurship Institute webinar Money Talks: How Early-Stage CPGs Should Talk to Investors. She shared the financials about her company which are that they:
- Plan to grow regionally and maintain 50 percent margins on annual revenue of $4 million.
- Reach double-digit EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortization) in the next three years.
- Have raised $2M since the company was founded. 65% from angel investors and crowdfunding and 35% from debt instruments.
An earlier version of this profile featured n the Spring 2023 edition of SYMBIOSIS magazine. Print-on-demand and downloadable PDF versions are available from MagCloud. It’s printed in the US, UK, and mainland Europe with local postage rates.