In 2010, Maine Department of Agriculture Consumer Protection Inspector Randy Trahan noticed leaking kombucha bottles at a Whole Foods in Portland, Maine. Trahan submitted the bottles for testing to Food Sciences Lab at The University of Maine. Rather than the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s regulation that labeled non-alcoholic beverages contain less than 0.5% ABV, the bottles contained up to 2.5% ABV. In response, Whole Foods pulled all kombucha from their shelves, a huge blow to the nascent kombucha industry.
“If we’d had a trade association employed, we could’ve saved a lot of money,” says Hannah Crum, a kombucha fan who turned her interest into a blog in 2007.
It took another four years, but in January of 2014, Crum and her husband, Alex LaGory, co-founded Kombucha Brewers International.
What Is Kombucha Brewers International?
Kombucha Brewers International (KBI) is the world’s major trade organization for kombucha brewers, representing over ninety percent of all bottled kombucha found on store shelves. Founded by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory in 2014, the organization currently has over 300 member companies representing 1,700 kombucha brewers worldwide.
“The majority of our brands are in North America,” says co-founder Hannah Crum. However, the organization has members all over the world.
Board members for KBI include Crum and LaGory, as well as Zane Adams, founder of Buchi, Barbara Wild, founder of BWild, Corey Wood, co-founder of ELIXIR, and several other industry leaders.
Why Is Kombucha Brewers International Important?
“The unique thing about kombucha brewers is that a lot of them come from different careers,” says Crum. “They’re entrepreneurs, not chemists, so many don’t know all the technical aspects of brewing.”
One of KBI’s most important directives is to educate members on quality control. The organization has developed a draft standards and distribution manual.
Additionally, the organization throws the annual KombuchaKon, “the only conference and trade show specifically targeting those in the Kombucha industry,” and publishes SYMBIOSIS Magazine, an industry journal.
What Does The Future Hold For Kombucha Brewers International?
Although coronavirus represents a significant challenge for the kombucha industry, it also highlights many areas for growth. In light of the virus, KBI launched a series of webinars to help their members get into e-commerce and establish best-practices with regards to contactless delivery.
The organization also launched a “Heal In,” where sponsors matched gift card purchases for twenty participating members. For every dollar in gift cards purchased from a member brand, sponsors gave a matching dollar to purchase local donations. Through this project, KBI and the participating members donated 117,000 of kombucha to hospitals and food banks in five countries around the world.
One of the organization’s most important initiatives is getting kombucha to a wider audience.
“I have a lot of ideas for how we can increase penetration into underserved areas,” says Crum. “I’d love to get kombucha onto the food stamp program so people have better access to healthy products.”
As the kombucha industry continues to grow — some estimates peg it as a $7.05 billion industry by 2027 — look to Kombucha Brewers International for new initiatives and opportunities.