I’m definitely interested in where the kombucha industry is headed. It seems like ten or so years ago was when the industry started to gain momentum in the US, only to be slowed by issues with continuing fermentation in the bottle, making the 0.5% ABV beverage by label more like 2.5% after sitting on the shelf for a while. That turned into a public relations nightmare which worked against the brands at the time but also built the mystery behind the new-ish fermented tea category. Fast forward to today when the major players are definitely playing within the rules (<0.5% ABV), flavor innovation is rampant and storytelling between brands varies widely. While I don’t ever see the industry growing to the point craft beer has, the challenges to stand out versus blend in are very apparent.
I took the opportunity to review leading kombucha players on their customer-facing marketing efforts. What strikes me is the brands’ advanced use of storytelling to differentiate themselves early. Brew Dr. Kombucha claims organic 100% raw kombucha, touting their authority as a tea company first. GT’s Living Foods messages around the ancient healing properties of kombucha, with a heartfelt story about health issues being helped by their family’s recipe. KeVita seems to be squarely focused on the younger consumer with messaging around self-discovery first, healthy-self second. Kombrewcha leans into a higher ABV version of the fermented tea, adding a bit of youthful edge and energy to the message. And Humm Kombucha, my near-neighbor to the North, has a quality message but currently lacks transparent company mission and vision statements as well as a clearly-articulated brand story.
Most of these brands are using effective storytelling tactics – both online and at retail – to help draw attention to the category and hopefully establish a premium spot in the customer’s consideration set. My recommendation: Humm Kombucha should define their brand positioning quickly before losing share to competitors who may have an inferior product but are winning with a superior story.