Brand Profile: Mother Kombucha Goes Deep in Florida

Florida-based Mother Kombucha is a startup brewing a refreshing take on the category that is quickly expanding within the Sunshine State.

Looking to create a drink that goes down easy in the Florida heat, Mother founder Tonya Donati has crafted the brand’s identity and products around a light, approachable, and healthy formulation. Donati, a former occupational therapist, began brewing kombucha at home for its health benefits, but she established her company in 2014 when the owner of Tampa Bay area juice bar chain Squeeze Juice Works asked her to begin producing kegs for its stores.

Since then, Mother has launched a line of bottled kombuchas with an expanding local footprint, joining a growing community of Floridian craft kombucha brewers which Donati said is nearing close to two dozen brands.

“Our brew style was based to some extent on our limitations,” Donati told BevNET. “We wanted something that was light and refreshing and that went well with the weather we have here. The concept of Mother from the foundation was essentially that healthy things should be delicious. So it had to be delicious, low in sugar, and something you would want to drink all in one sitting rather than something you sip on for three days.”

The company currently offers seven single-serve SKUs which retail for $3.49 per 12 oz. bottle, including Blue Rose, Ginger Lemonade, Lavender Mojito, Jasmine Flower and three new flavors, which launched in May, Blood Orange Ginger, Hopped Passion Fruit, and The Trop (a pineapple and coconut blend). The brews include added adaptogens and contain a naturally high B vitamin count. On tap, Mother has 12 additional flavor offerings not currently bottled, Donati said, and the company plans to rollout more bottled varieties in the future. The products are USDA certified organic and the company is also working to obtain B Corp certifications.

“[Donati] started originally by selling in the local farmer’s market and we continue to have a presence there because it does give us a great way to test new flavors,” said sales director Elizabeth Vanneste.

Mother is also producing switchel, currently selling a 12 oz. sparkling Orange Blossom variety brewed with Florida-sourced honey. Donati said making switchel was a way to expand the portfolio with a product that has the same vinegar notes as kombucha but without concerns about alcohol, although all Mother kombuchas are under 0.5 percent ABV.

“We wanted to have a seperate line because we did have a lot of people who would say they don’t really like fermented things,” Donati said. “Or for the reason that even with the trace amounts of alcohol in kombucha, there’s some people who [can’t have it] for religious reasons or alcohol issues or allergies. We started making it and saw there was a market for it so we plan to have some switchel expansions as well.”

Last month, Mother moved into a new 13,000 sq ft facility to help meet growing demand for the product, providing ten times the production capability, Donati said. According to Vanneste, the company is in talks with several “large chain” retailers to further expansion and is also exploring other channels. The brand has partnered with resorts and has also found placement in local convenience stores.

The company has gained distribution with UNFI, entering the company’s Sarasota warehouse, and last week announced it would be available in 260 Publix stores in Florida. The brand is also sold in Lucky’s Market, EarthFare, and about 400 independent accounts including bars, restaurants, yoga studios, and climbing gyms.

Mother is also available in less than 100 stores across Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Donati said she hopes to prove to Publix that Mother is a strong regional player in kombucha and to grow into other states with the retailer.

“We’re trying to make a product that tastes so good you can give it to your mother-in-law and say ‘here, you’re actually going to like this,’” Donati said. “We want to expand the base beyond the traditional kombucha buyer and make it something that’s accessible and drinkable and focus on making an enjoyable beverage that happens to be great for you.”