World Business Academy Announces Kombucha Alcohol Level Testing Program

In a letter to Congressman Jared Polis in late September, Administrator John J. Manfreda of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) concluded: “Unfortunately, TTB continues to find kombucha products in the marketplace that are not properly labeled as alcoholic beverages despite containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume. Consequently, we have re-issued our guidance on kombucha in the hope that this will help industry members and protect consumers.”

Showing its diligence in oversight of the kombucha category, the TTB recently launched a new page on its website covering the production, labeling, and sale of kombucha beverages, and added new FAQs that specifically address testing methods to measure the alcohol content of kombucha.

The Truth In Labeling Initiative will provide the rapidly expanding base of retailers and consumers who enjoy the kombucha category of fermented drinks with a means of determining if the beverage they choose is an alcoholic drink containing over 0.5 percent alcohol. This information is vital for pregnant women, children, members of the recovery community, individuals in sensitive occupations (e.g. airline pilots, commercial truckers, etc.), and the public at large.

The Initiative has received a seed grant of $100,000 from KeVita Probiotic Drinks of Oxnard, California, to roll out the program for itself and all other kombucha manufacturers who choose to voluntarily test their products on a regular basis and report the results of those tests through an updated website.

The Academy specifically indicated that no kombucha manufacturer will be required to participate in the independent and voluntary testing protocols. Instead, the Academy believes the industry will view this self-regulating mechanism as a preferred response to further TTB actions, and as a way to provide independent, unbiased assurance of the alcohol content of kombucha products to earn the trust of consumers and other stakeholders.

The Academy contracted with NSF International (a global, non-profit public health and safety organization) to provide ongoing guidance on the program, and assistance in gathering product samples for testing on a nationwide basis. These efforts will help ensure that this initiative is robust, transparent, and consistent in order to meet both consumer expectations and regulatory requirements. The Academy—which will supervise the independent testing system—will exclusively use TTB-approved testing protocols in order to assure the public regarding full compliance of all tested beverages. Products found to have an alcohol content of under 0.5% will be listed on a regularly updated Kombucha page of the World Business Academy website specifically created for the Truth In Labeling Initiative.

World Business Academy president Rinaldo Brutoco regards this initiative as essential to instill public confidence in a new health-beverage category. “Since 1986, the Academy has promoted the concept that business can, and should, take responsibility for all the goods and services it provides to the public. This includes self-regulation by industry segments such as kombucha beverages to insure that goods and services are safe and promote human well-being,” Brutoco said. “Our Truth In Labeling Initiative provides responsible kombucha makers the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to honest business practices.”

Kombucha beverage products—which originated in China centuries ago and have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years—are available at major grocery store chains and retailers throughout North America. Currently a $600-million industry, kombucha sales revenues are expected to grow to $1.8-billion by 2020. Much of this growth is fueled by increased consumer interest in organic and natural products, as well as the potential health benefits of kombucha and other fermented products.

Bill Moses, founder and president of KeVita Probiotic Drinks, stated: “It is an important and positive step forward for the kombucha industry that brands can now obtain ‘non-alcohol verification’ that provides consumers awareness of accuracy in labeling, while giving retailers and distributors assurance that they are not selling an alcoholic product. With this third-party-verification program in place, TTB-compliant manufacturers committed to truth in labeling will be effectively protected from being pulled from shelves indiscriminately.”

Kombucha beverage manufacturers who are interested in participating in the Truth In Labeling Initiative are encouraged to contact Cynthia Wallace at the World Business Academy by telephone: 805-892-4600, or by email: KombuchaTesting(at)worldbusiness(dot)org.

The World Business Academy is a California-based non-profit business think tank, action incubator, and network of business and thought leaders. The Academy’s mission is to inspire business to assume responsibility for the whole of society and to assist those in business who share their values.

NSF International is a global not-for-profit public health organization that writes standards, tests, and certifies products for the food, water, health sciences, and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment. Founded in 1944, NSF is committed to protecting human health and safety worldwide.