(aka GT's Kombucha), the largest brand in the nation, is still
reformulating its product to ensure alcohol levels stay low. (Side note:
Stores like Berkeley Bowl and Good Life, which have started stocking Synergy drinks again,
are selling existing product, which distributor The Good Stuff just confirmed
to SFoodie.) Meanwhile, demand for kombucha hasn't dissipated. That
absence of the industry's major player means that smaller local
companies like Vibranz are seeing a huge bump in sales.
Rana Chang, co-owner of San Francisco-based House Kombucha,
concurs. Chang and
Asad Modarai founded House in September 2009, graduating from a stand at
the now-defunct Metreon farmers' market to selling reusable 16-ounce
bottles at two dozen local markets. House was too small, in fact, to
feel the effects of the recall. "Rainbow stopped placing new orders for a
while," Rana said. "But not even a week.
We tested our product, we stand behind it, that's good enough."
House has doubled production since June. Chang had anticipated that
sales would hit that target thanks to warmer weather, but the
disappearance of Synergy helped, too. "There are a lot of people trying
[our product] who wouldn't have seen
it because Synergy took up so much shelf space," she says.
or not local kombucha producers see alcohol-level issue as a boon or
bust depends on how much they sold through Whole Foods. Lev Kilun of Lev's Original Kombucha, who operates out of Treasure Island, lost 30 accounts when Whole Foods pulled his product from their shelves. He's
back in Andronico's, and some accounts have grown, but he still hasn't
returned to Whole Foods. The grocery chain is waiting for him to prove
that his product is below 0.5 percent alcohol by volume or lower, and he's trying to figure
out how to do that. "We always were at that [0.5 percent] range," Kilun says.
"We small producers don't have the tools to verify whether it contains
0.5 percent or 0.55 percent.
Now we have lab working with us in Saint Helena, and are sending every
batch to the lab to test overnight." He's not worried about the cost of
the extra testing, but more about the logistics of tweaking his formula in just the right way. "It costs me in gray hairs," he jokes.
three-week break, Vibranz was able to demonstrate its low alcohol
levels to Whole Foods. "My partners are former wine makers and
sparkling-juice makers," Taylor says. "So they were quite aware of
watching the fermentation." With no competition from the best-known
brand to slow them down, Taylor estimates the growth as 400 percent in
just two months. "We have a fabulous product," she says. "All we needed
was for the market to give us a try."