Kombucha Crossover

Kombucha holds many similarities to craft beer. Some consider the production to be a form of art. Both are brewed with an intention to maintain taste and quality. You sell both in kegs, resulting in freshness at its best and disaster at its worst. So it stands to reason that when Daina Slekys Trout, the CEO and founder of Health-Ade Kombucha, decided she was ready to scale her brand, she reached out to the craft beer world for help.

Health-Ade announced Wednesday that it has added Christine Perich, the CFO and COO at New Belgium Brewing Company, Inc., to its board of directors. Perich began working at the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery in 2000 and will continue to do so. Slekys Trout credited Perich’s vast experience and ability to troubleshoot the abundance of difficulties faced by an ambitious kombucha company. New Belgium as an institution also has close ties with Health-Ade investor First Beverage, as First Beverage vice president J.B. Shireman was a longtime executive with the Fat Tire brewer.

“Every Fat Tire that I open is delicious,” Slekys Trout said. “It tastes the same every time, and that’s exactly what I want Health-Ade to be.”

On Monday, Health-Ade announced that it has hired Ramon Canek, the former COO and vice president of operations at GT’s Kombucha, to serve as its vice president of operations. Canek will monitor the company’s manufacturing and will work closely with Vanessa Dew, Health-Ade’s CFO and director of sales.

Slekys Trout said that Canek has expressed an interest in working with startup companies, which perhaps explains his decision to leave the top-selling kombucha supplier for a still-developing one. Canek had worked with GT’s since it was smaller than Health-Ade, Slekys Trout said.

Among other qualities, she said that she values his experience with kombucha, a still widely unknown category, and his understanding of the process.

“He’s extremely knowledgeable about kombucha and manufacturing,” she said. “I feel very grateful to have him on our team.”

The staff additions coincide with Health-Ade’s move into a bigger facility. After beginning in March 2012 by borrowing space in Cake Bakeshop in Manhattan Beach, Calif., the company moved into a 1,200 foot space in Gardena, Calif., which formerly served as a wholesale space for a Japanese fast food company. On Monday, Health-Ade began testing batches of kombucha at its new facility — a 5,000 square foot space in Van Nuys, Calif., about 17 miles north of Santa Monica, that she said could easily multiply production by 10.

“It’s like going from a tiny closet to a house,” she said.

Slekys Trout said that while she expects to begin selling out of that facility next week, her company’s current growth trajectory and the necessity for significant cooler and fermentation space will likely lead to yet another new space in about six months.

“We couldn’t go from space A to space C without going to space B,” she said.

The quick moves follow the company’s triumph at the latest New Beverage Showdown and First Beverage’s recent investment. Slekys Trout said that she originally wanted to refrain from outside stakeholders, however, she soon realized the reality of scaling a brand.

“We saw quickly that brewing your own kombucha is just very expensive when you do it in a manufacturing space,” she said.

Right around the same time that she began considering outside investors, the First Beverage team gave her a call. Slekys Trout referred to the deal as serendipitous.

The infrastructural fortifications could lead to packaging extensions and even a facility on the East Coast. For now, Health-Ade plans on spreading its distribution footprint. The company has already taken its first order from Fairway in New York and will be on sale there in the middle of February. She plans on having Health-Ade available in Sprouts and Whole Foods (initially at a regional level) in the next few months and has also reached a deal with Monterrey Provision Company, a regional distributor that will bring the brand to the Northwest.

The bundle of expansion news is enough to make you raise a glass of Ranger IPA. Or kombucha, depending on your style.