búcha, Under New Veteran, Tries for Second Place

Lloyd, in the Crayons days.

Looking to shed “promising upstart” status in favor of a seat at the big kids’ table, búcha live kombucha has named veteran natural foods and beverage exec Ron Lloyd as CEO. The move, made quietly last spring, has already paid dividends, as the company’s new distribution strategy has recently pushed internal growth expectations up an additional 30 percent for 2011.

As a result, the brand’s natural foods channel foothold in the Western region will be expanded aggressively in 2012. Positioning the beverage as “live Kombucha that looks and tastes good,” búcha was founded by Bern Galvin, a consultant with 30 years of corporate turnaround and management experience, in 2009.

After launching into the market in late 2010, Galvin recognized the need to supplement the existing team with an executive with deep experience in the natural food and beverage category, in order to capitalize on the expanding marketplace for Kombucha.

Lloyd, who brings over 25 years of experience in both the conventional and the natural food & beverage industries, has achieved success with both startup and established functional beverage brands. After cutting his teeth with Procter & Gamble and Kraft Foods, Lloyd has shepherded many young brands with unique points of differences to new heights across all markets and age groups, producing multiple success stories in the juice, water, and wine categories with companies like Capri Sun, Crayons, Trinity Springs, and Franciscan Estates.

“The key to taking a start-up to success is deeply knowing the market,” Lloyd said. “The greatest mistake young companies make is trying to do too much. Although we feel we are bucking the trends with our unique flavor pairings, contemporary packaging and better taste, we still plan to keep things very focused and simple.”

While búcha’s entrance into the market was delayed by the industry-wide Kombucha withdrawal that took place last year, Lloyd said that, ultimately, “the recall needed to happen – manufacturers need to live within regulations and they weren’t self regulating enough. Some companies still have not recovered and others have disappeared freeing up space on retail shelves.”

However, Kombucha drinks appear to be rebounding with many stores eager to add new brands as consumers flock to functional beverages that replace the empty calories of soda and other beverages. And with some industry estimates expecting the Kombucha market to double to $500 million by 2015, Lloyd knows the competition will get tougher, and that’s why they are making an aggressive push now.

“In my region, this category is now owned by two players – GT Dave & búcha,” noted Larry Truselo, the sales manager of R&K Foods, a specialty food and beverages distributor to Whole Foods Markets and other natural foods stores and co-ops in Washington, Oregon and California.

Market leader GT’s has been appearing in new distribution channels such as mainstream supermarkets, select convenience stores and even some airports, an indicator of potentially broader markets on the horizon for other brands as well. Still, GT’s Kombucha and GT’s Synergy brands dominate the marketplace, commanding over 80 percent of market share by some estimates.

“We don’t think GT Dave’s can hold on to that much of the market forever,” said Lloyd. “As Kombucha keeps growing, we believe that our more approachable product offerings will provide an appealing onramp for new consumers to enter the category and help drive even more growth.”

Lloyd’s business ethos is founded on integrity and authenticity.

“There’s something magic about Kombucha, and we want to share that message with consumers without over promising,” Lloyd said.

While búcha maintains a label devoid of the health claims found on other brands, the health benefits of the drink have not been lost on Lloyd.

“I’ve dropped over 25 pounds just from drinking búcha, which is naturally low in calories,” Lloyd said. “I drink it when I’d normally reach for a snack and find that I’ve got more energy and sharper focus.”

Whether for taste or other perceived benefits, búcha’s team hopes plenty of new Kombucha drinkers try out their brand as the category continues to grow. If they do, búcha is convinced those new drinkers will stick with the new guys.