Business Leader recently sat down with the Founder of Real Kombucha David Begg to discuss the incredible rise of the fermented tea drink, the growth of his company, and what the future holds for this industry.
Can you give me an overview of Real Kombucha?
Real was founded when I had all but given up drinking. I was frustrated by the limited choice for non-drinkers and noticed they were not catered for in any serious, sophisticated manner. A friend served me a glass of his home brew kombucha with a fantastic meal and I was utterly hooked.
I began experimentation with different teas, and different processes in order to develop the product that I felt could perfectly well hold its own against the top end of the alcohol market, without compromising flavour or mouthfeel. And I think we achieved it.
Within two years the company has become one of the leaders of the rapidly growing non-alcoholic movement and is working to change attitudes towards alcohol in addition to becoming a leading authority on brewing and fermentation.
How would you describe the growth of the company?
We were founded two years ago and it has been very rapid!
We have proved hugely popular with leading chefs and sommeliers, who have been blown away by the complexity and depth of flavour the drinks offer. The taste can be compared to a fine sparkling wine meaning that Real offers a genuine non-alcoholic alternative for food pairings. For many in the fine dining industry, they consider Real as the only non-alcoholic drink that can be paired with food in the same way as a fine wine.
We work with many of the top restaurants, bars, hotels and pubs in the country. We are now served in over 50 Michelin starred restaurants and over 100 of the country’s top hotels as well as countless pubs, bars and restaurants up and down the country. Many of the UKs top chefs, sommeliers and mixologists are passionate about what we do.
How would you describe the rise in popularity in kombucha in the UK?
We have seen a rapid rise in kombucha in the UK, but most brands are chasing the supermarket soft-drink space as a healthier alternative. These are all flavoured to mimic soft-drinks, whereas we take all of our flavour purely from the teas we ferment with, as you would do with a fine sparkling wine.
How often have you drunk a Champagne that has been flavoured with ginger or apple juice in the bottle…
And our brewing processes reflect this. We have spent 4 years developing a fermentation process that has as much in common with Champagne or Prosecco as it does with kombucha. It is this passionate focus on the science and quality of what we do that has led to being able to produce drinks that can hold their own alongside the best sparkling wines.
Hence we are entirely focused on the no- and lo- sector. Our competition is less the soft-drink kombuchas than the other sophisticated non-alcoholic drinks, along with sparkling wines and champagnes. We are always served in a wine or champagne glass so we fit very comfortably in this space.
Consumer habits in alcohol consumption are changing very rapidly. I have worked in consumer products businesses for more than 30 years and I can easily say this is the fastest change in consumer behaviour I have seen.
What has this been down to?
Firstly the current trend is driven by consumer behaviour. Total alcohol consumption in the UK has dropped almost 20% in the past 10 years. But this also underlies a big change in consumption patterns: more than half as many people are drinking daily, and there is an enormous increase in teetotalism, particularly amongst the younger audience.
But consumers have previously sited the lack of quality alternatives to alcoholic drinks as being the main barrier to reducing their alcohol consumption. Now, for the first time, this is not the case. Non-alcoholic beers are becoming pretty good, drinks such as kombucha can provide a beverage that is very similar in nature to a good sparkling wine, and the range of non-alcoholic spirits on the market is staggering.
What are the goals of the company?
We want to change attitudes towards alcohol and alcohol consumption. We see ourselves as prime activists in this space and want to collaborate and open up conversations with like minded people and brands. It is only by providing true non-alcoholic alternatives that are no lesser than their alcoholic brethren, and stand alone rather than trying to mimic alcoholic drinks that consumers are going to be able to reduce their alcohol consumption without feeling as if they are making a compromise.
And it seems to be working. We have very rapidly colonised the on-trade and have become one of the de-facto drinks on menus across the UK. And it proves both the quality of our drinks and the demand there is from consumers that we are now out-performing many of the other non-alcoholic options on the bar or in the restaurant. And these are often from the large drinks brands that are investing heavily in marketing and activation.
What does the future hold for the business?
We continue to invest to expand our presence across the UK on-trade, but we are now turning our sites on the off-trade. The on-trade has been very important to us, to ensure that consumers understand Real’s positioning alongside alcohol. But we now want to offer consumers the chance to drink Real at home. And first evidence is really strong, again outperforming most non-alcoholic, and alcoholic options that retailers have on the shelves.
And we are expanding rapidly across Europe. We have just launched into several countries in northern Europe and are in conversations with importers across much of central and southern Europe. And we have our sights on several markets further afield also over the next 12 months.
So we are likely to see accelerating growth over the next 12 months.