Sergio Malarin explained at Washington, DC-based incubator Union Kitchen’s Meet the Makers event March 4 that most people understand that kombucha offers health benefits, but a significant portion of Americans are intimidated by the beverage because of its strong flavor and unusual texture. The large, cylindrical bottles in which it typically comes also don’t help – rather they underscore kombucha’s otherness and raise the stakes for category newcomers – creating a barrier to entry.
That is why the company’s Wild Kombucha comes in a more familiar glass bottle shaped like those favored by beer manufacturers and craft soda makers.
But Wild Kombucha doesn’t just look different from other kombuchas – it is different. Malarin explains it is brewed with green tea versus the more typical black tea, which helps give it a lighter, less vinegary flavor.
In addition, the company doesn’t add sugar to the product for the second fermentation like many competitors do – instead favoring it with a “tiny bit” of organic juice, which also helps soften the flavor profile as well as cut back on the amount of sugar in the final product – a strategic move at a time when many consumers are hyper-aware of and avoiding products with high sugar content.
As for the texture, Wild Kombucha takes care to strain the finished product similar to how beer brewers strain their beverages to eliminate the risk of any globular pieces of SCOBY that can turn off all but die-hard kombucha fans.
A small fish trying to attract a bigger fish
Malarin describes Wild Kombucha as a “small fish,” but it won’t be for long, he says. He explains that the company has grown steadily in its short two years – doubling sales every year and expanding into 150 stores already. As such, Malarin hopes the brand will attract a “larger fish” soon.
With the help of $50,000 in first-prize money from a business competition, the trio recently expanded Wild Kombucha’s brewing facility and is ready to scale up. But to do so steadily, the co-founders realize they likely need investor support, so they are starting to investigate their options, Malarin said.
He also notes it is hard not to think about PepsiCo’s recent acquisition of kombucha brand KeVita for an undisclosed sum and the “bar it set for the market.”
He added that the acquisition highlighted the potential of kombucha in the US and “gives us leverage at the negotiating table” with investors or potential acquiring partners.
But even as the company grows, Malarin says he knows Wild Kombucha will never be one of the giants in the industry. With that in mind, he said speaking for himself and not his partners, he wonders if it is better to be acquired by one of large players and then continue to operate under a parent company.
“That is the only way to turn the food and beverage industry world around,” and focus on improving America’s diet and health as well as growing a business, he said.