Updated: Apr 8
Oh wow. Cool! SO...um, what is it?
The words every small business owner loves to hear. Music to our ears that.
Are we ahead of the curve, or are we fucking stupid?
I like to think we are a bit of both. Teetering on the edge of our own comfort zone, trying to tempt our potential tribe over to our vibe whilst gently correcting their pronunciation where possible.
It's Kom-bu-cha, dear.
We've always felt, well I have - James' confidence never ceases to amaze me - that perhaps this is a bad idea. Starting up a business is hard at the best of times. What's harder, is when you are producing a product or service that is still an unknown in the mainstream marketplace. Not only do you need to try to sell that product or service, you often find yourself taking a deep breath and get ready to state your 'spiel' to explain what it actually is. Not very sexy. Especially when your spiel starts with the words Fermented and Tea. I think it’s fair to say we have had people physically recoil at those two words linked together. I'm always like ''wait till I get my SCOBY out mate, that will give you something to recoil about."
This topic came to my attention last week when we dropped off our first order to a new coffee house in Chester. Our first stockist outside Manchester, which was a happy day in itself. Laine, the manager was super welcoming, enthusiastic about stocking us, very excited about the opening of the space and... she is from America.
How is that relevant I hear you ask? I’ll tell you.
I told her I would send over our Laid Bear cheat sheet, something we offer to new stockists so their staff have a point of reference if some keen bean customer accosts them whilst they are carrying 3 Oat Flat Whites, a slice of Vegan Lemon Drizzle and Baby Chino for someone's dog. They can then, at least answer any curious questions with the basics without just nervously shouting the words fermented and tea at them, which as we have already established, is not very sexy.
Laine was grateful for the cheat sheet offer, and assured me it’s all cool, she has been drinking Kombucha for 12 years so she knows the script. She has got it down. She probably knows more than me. I couldn't hide my gratitude. No hard sell needed from my part; I felt a sigh of relief to be honest.
This might sound a little dramatic, but that one comment from Laine held a lot more validation to me than she might have realised. Not only was I relieved that the manager in this new venue knows what Kombucha is and can therefore, explain to any unsure newbies to not be afraid of the unknown when musing over the soft drink selection, it also validates our decision.
Our decision to be ahead of the curve/fucking stupid.
They say (don't ask me who they is) that the UK trends run something like 7 years behind the States. They've been eating Avo on Toast and, practising naked yoga and drinking Kombucha for years. Years I tell you. The UK catches up eventually, and we do an ace albeit modest job of it when we do comparatively, but I think it’s fair to say that we are late to the party at times. Plant based scran has only really found its spotlight in the last couple years for example, especially in the fringes where pub lunch culture is still very much the norm.*
This is not my first rodeo. In 2019, my first little micro business if you will, was cooking plant-based food in Altrincham, just on the edge of Manchester. It’s worth mentioning, that Altrincham was voted the best place to live in the North West in 2021. I like to think my plant-based pop up was a deciding factor for the judges. Ha.Ha.
Even with this prestigious title, the cosmopolitan, trendy, cash rich clientele of Alty were still asking me for a bacon sandwich of a morning. The queue for the slow cooked meat pop up next to mine was always enviously long. My pulled BBQ Jackfruit Tacos, Cauliflower Wings and Kombucha Cocktails although loved by some, were still a step too far for many. Let’s just say I wasn't serving burger and chips.
It was suggested to me that I offer a veggie burger (snore) so that there was a standout item on the menu that customers could relate to and recognise.
Pre-trend. It’s a hard sell. Some customers wouldn't order with me, because all the offerings were vegan. They tell me, I am not vegan so no thanks. It’s a real kick in the tits.
Of course, you work hard, find your tribe, your fans, your absolute gems who get what you do, are willing to try the unknown and they support you week in, week out. That’s what makes it all worth it in the end.
Same with the booch, you get a few who get you, and it feels great. You also get people who, I think, deep down, look at you and wonder - what if this doesn't work? What if Kombucha doesn't take off in the UK? What if you fail? Why can't you sell burgers and chips or get a real job?
I wonder the same sometimes I am not going to lie.
BUT, I remind myself that when we are in the unknown, that’s where the magic happens. If everyone was selling Kombucha now, it would be too late for us. We would have missed the boat. We've been plugging away at this since 2019, and we will keep plugging at it.
I had a call this week with Jordan, the founder of Kombucha Warehouse (if you love all things fermented and boochie you should check them out @kombuchawarehouse). Jordan is a big character with a big vision. He told me that he wanted to be the largest Kombucha distributor in the UK, and I don’t doubt him. He gets what all the fuss is about and believes in the growth within the industry. His confidence gives me confidence. He also told me if you don't think big when it comes to your business, how can you expect it to become big? Manifest that shit.
We have been serving our Kombucha on tap since 2020, and it’s been a slow burner, but something we are very much passionate about. Zero Waste, refills, cocktail combos...it’s all there. We are the only Kombucha brand in the North West serving this way. We are thinking big with it, and want our booch on tap in bars, restaurants, refill shops, your mum’s kitchen...we are here for it.
Its slow though. Customers don't want to commit to having the fridge, the tap, the kegs...it’s a bit more hands on than buying the bottles only, and we get that. But, it’s cheaper and is more eco-friendly. Our Kombucha is on tap at Cloudwater tap room and New Wave Ramen in Manchester (thanks guys!) which we are stoked about, but we'd like more of course. Not everyone is on board with it yet. No dramas.
So, I get the usual doubt, worrying that maybe on tap is never going to work and we should sack it all off, close the brewery and pour our starter culture into the canal and be done with it. That’s it. No more.
Once I have been coaxed back from the edge, I see the bigger picture. Tap rooms dedicated to Kombucha in Dallas, LA and Oregon. Pop up tap rooms in London. Non-alcoholic sales booming in the UK. I’m hopeful that we are ahead of the trend, and when it drops we will already be there.
So, thank you Laine from ArtHouse in Chester. Thank you Jordan. Thank you to every optimistic person who has crossed our path. Without even knowing you remind me that we are doing the right thing, and this Bear is going to ride this booch wave best they can.
* I 100% support pubs and their lunches. In fact, any recommendations welcome.