Kombucha in California: Part 3 of 4
This is a continuation of the four-part series of posts looking at the kombucha category and consumers in California.
In Part 1, we shared data from a Searchabull report on the California kombucha category over four years. The report showed that California is the heart of kombucha in the US, and while overall search volume declined when COVID hit, this has since stabilized.
In Part 2, we took a more granular look at consumers’ specific interests, noting a potential trend away from ‘medicinal’ or strictly health-related searches toward overall wellness and highlight the seasonal nature of interest in kombucha.
In Part 3, we review changing consumer flavor preferences and note a declining interest in home brewing.
Kombucha is blessed with what some have termed the “infinite possibilities” of flavors that can be infused after the first fermentation completes. While some consumers choose the unflavored or “original” kind, the shelves of the larger markets in California are filled with dozens of flavor varieties. Here. for example, is the chiller at my local Vallejo Safeway:
Indeed, Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) has developed a “Flavor Flower” used in judging their annual Kombucha Kup Awards tasting competition. Inspired by the flavor wheels for beer, wine, whiskey, tea and chocolate, this beautiful rendition is a valuable tool for sensory evaluation and judging of kombucha’s many potential flavors. It lists over 100 possible flavorings.
Given these possibilities, what are consumers interested in, and what flavors should brands consider selling to tap into the most popular flavors?
The search volume ranking for the 18 most searched-for flavors shows that consumer interests have changed significantly over the past three years.
Ginger has traditionally been the most popular flavor both in California and worldwide. However, there’s an increasing interest in fruits such as apple, strawberry, and mango. The vast majority of searches are for fruit flavors, and people looking for Fruits of all kinds have increased at the expense of Plant (e.g., Ginger).
It’s clear from Instagram that apple kombucha is becoming increasingly popular, not only in California but worldwide.
These numbers are a result of people looking for a specific brand such as Health-Ade (Pink Lady), and a general interest in a flavor they like. We’ll focus on brands in Part 4.
Declining interest in home brewing
Comparing October 2020 to October 2023, there’s been a steep decline in interest in ‘making your own.’
Interest in home brewing spiked during the pandemic when people stayed home during lockdown and turned to everything from baking sourdough bread to fermenting kombucha. There are reports that the great pandemic bake-off might be over. Hence, fermenting your own ‘booch is a commitment some might no longer feel able to keep. This is shown by the decline in specific ‘SCOBY-related’ terms.
Less interest in alcohol content
The interest in ‘alcohol’ in the charts is related to searches about the alcohol levels of kombucha, not ‘hard’ or high ABV kombucha (which was specifically omitted from the study). We can see from the chart above on the left that while searches for alcohol fell between 2022 and 2023, they have fallen less than other concerns. So when you look at share, alcohol increases as an overall percentage. This means there was less interest in the topic but more relative importance.
These trends are even more pronounced over the full four-year period of the study.
Looking at consumer interests revealed by these Google searches at a granular level shows trends brands might consider when developing their messaging and product lines. Californians who turn to Google are searching for flavors that appeal to them. Beyond the trusty standby of having at least one ginger-based offering, brands should consider adding popular fruit flavors such as apple.
The interest in brewing kombucha at home seems to be declining. This might have been a post-pandemic decline from peaks in 2020 that also benefited sourdough bread baking and other lock-down pursuits.
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at the interest in specific brands and retailers.
Stay tuned for Part 4.
The content of this article is accurate to the best of our knowledge and is presented for general informational purposes only. We have no financial interest in Searchabull and make no recommendation about their products. All data (except where noted) is from Searchabull. The opinions are those of the editor.