Counter to prevailing beliefs about the beverage, kombucha doesn’t have to taste bad, says Live Soda Kombucha founder and CEO Trevor Ross, and his company is leaning on a throwback approach to formulation and marketing as a way to bring consumers into the category, one soda bottle at a time.
“We make organic, raw kombucha, and then we take our special blend of extracts, spices and flavors and make it taste like soda,” Ross said in a recent interview with BevNET CEO John Craven. “So we like to think we’re bringing soda back to its roots. It originally was [a] kind of medicinal elixir that kind of morphed into something that wasn’t so healthy. We’re bringing it back.”
Part of that thirst for nostalgia resulted in a rebrand and reformulation last year. The company swapped white screen print on its 12 oz. glass bottles for a label with silver accented label that is color-coordinated to individual varieties of the brand. Topped with a red crown closure, the revamp was intended to make Live Soda “more relevant to a broader audience,” the company said in a September, 2013 statement.
Ross noted that company also reduced the sweetness level of the beverages to play up the healthful aspects of the drinks, while maintaining the taste of a soda. The strategy has given Live Soda the role of “the gateway kombucha,” he said.
“We want people who want to try kombucha or are a little afraid and want something more approachable, so that they can drink their favorite soda flavors and get the benefits of kombucha that everyone’s hearing so much about,” said Ross.
Getting Live Soda in as many hands as possible is Ross’ ultimate goal, and he’s off to a good start with distribution and shelf presence for the brand across the country. Live Soda is sold in traditional grocery chains, including Safeway and Kroger stores as well as hybrid and specialty retailers like HEB and Fred Meyer, and, as might be expected, the natural channel, where the brand is carried at Whole Foods and dozens of independent retailers.
In this video, filmed at Live Soda headquarters in Austin, Texas, Ross and Craven discuss the comparisons between kombucha and craft beer, the evolution of the segment, and the scale that the brand is hoping to achieve as an introductory product to the category. Ross also shares the roots of Live Soda and how the notion that kombucha can offer high quality and approachable flavors is a key aspect of innovation and messaging for the company.