Q&A: The Plans of Kombucha Brewers International

Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory, the proprietors of KombuchaKamp.com, have long worked with kombucha companies and homebrewers to help explain the proper steps and characteristics of this widely-unknown form of beverage, which uses a live bacteria as its base. With the recent announcement that the two have founded Kombucha Brewers International, a kombucha trade group, their roles not only become more official, but they also expand.

BevNET recently spoke with Crum (who has written for us in the past) and asked about her plans with the trade group and why she felt the need to take this next step.

BevNET: Why did you decide to launch Kombucha Brewers International?

Hannah Crum: Kombucha Brewers International is a natural extension of Kombucha Kamp’s mission, which is to heal the world one gut at a time, and we’ve always known that we can’t do that alone. Prior to establishing KBI, we had already been engaging with different kombucha brands to work with them on class marketing campaigns…This is a kind of outgrowth of those relationships we cultivated earlier when we were working in that way. So, we feel like the time is now to establish Kombucha Brewers International because many of the companies have been feeling like they want to band together and not one of them has been able to kind of figure out how do we do this. We’ve been the third-party glue, so to speak, in terms of bring everyone together, onto the same page.

BN: What are some of the initial steps you plan to take with KBI?

HC: At KBI, we want to establish labeling standards, industry standards. And this stuff won’t necessarily happen overnight, but the first step of course is bringing everyone together into an arena or a forum where we can discuss these types of overarching issues that affect the whole industry. Labeling has been one that many of the companies have said is really important that we have some kind of norms for that process. Also, creating educational materials, not only for consumers and helping them to understand what kombucha is, but also to the retailers so that they understand why it’s beneficial to carry kombucha, and moreover, why it’s beneficial to carry more than one brand or flavor. Also, the creation of a new category. There is no category for kombucha and right now there’s companies doing an under-21 kombucha, where that just falls into the regular beverage, there’s no regulation for that. Those who are in the over-21 kombucha, they have to be either classed as a beer or a wine and that varies state-by-state. So there’s just a lack of consistency in how it’s even classified at this point in time by the federal government. So we want to create a category, kombucha, and then define it from there.

BN: What are some of the labeling issues that have led to companies approaching you, looking for some kind of guideline?

HC: Often times, people, when they’re listing it on the label, they do list out what the kombucha is made from and that very is often is tea and sugar and there may be something else as well. But some companies have chosen not to illuminate that part of the process, they simply say kombucha and they don’t mention the fact that it’s made with sugar. That’s led to some consumer confusion where they think ‘Oh, I want the kombucha that’s not made with sugar,’ but that simply isn’t the case. It’s part of the fermentation process, you have to use sugar to make kombucha. There’s also some folks that have done some third-party testing to verify, are the sugar grams that people are reporting in the correct range?

BN: How would you describe the Kombucha Konvention, which is set for January 17th and 18th in Santa Monica?

HC: Kombucha Kon is going to be the first time that we’re all in the same room together. So it’s a really terrific networking opportunity where people can start to put faces and names together. Anyone who’s been in the industry for a period of time obviously is familiar with several of the different players and now we’ll get a chance to meet each other, to share from our experience. Kombucha Kon is, this year, specifically for kombucha companies that have a product in at least five outlets. We anticipate, down the road, KBI will be opened up to other levels of membership such as homebrewers and other industries that have relationships with the kombucha manufacturers. But for this first meeting, we’re only going to keep it to the companies because we know that there’s a lot of pent up information and energy that needs to be shared amongst our industry fellows. It needs to be done in a safe space where they know that everyone who is present are people who already have experience in the marketplace.