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Opinion: The juicy, fruity future of hard kombucha
FoodBev Media

FoodBev Media

15 May 2024

Opinion: The juicy, fruity future of hard kombucha


The transition from traditional to hard kombucha not only reflects changing consumer preferences but also represents a transformative opportunity for entrepreneurs. Through an analysis of market trends, regulatory landscapes and consumer demands, Mate Maker master brewmaker, Josh Makle, articulates a compelling narrative of innovation and growth in the beverage industry.


Kombucha, the fizzy fermented tea drink, has cemented its status as a staple in the health beverage market. Traditionally, most kombucha versions contain about 0.5-1% alcohol due to the natural fermentation process, positioning them primarily as vinegar-based, non-alcoholic health tonics. However, the recent emergence of hard kombucha, with its 4-7% alcohol by volume (ABV), signals a promising new segment for both consumers and business operators.



The appeal of kombucha lies in its reputation as a functional and healthier alcohol alternative. Hard kombucha extends this appeal, attracting health-conscious individuals and those in search of a refreshing, fruit-flavoured adult beverage. Moreover, the trend towards juicy, fruit-infused options is evident across all alcohol categories, with hard kombucha leading the way by moving away from the vinegar taste that some find off-putting. This shift mirrors the evolution seen in the beer industry with the popularity of fruited beers and less bitter hazy IPAs.


A key factor in the appeal of hard kombucha is its real fruit flavouring, which offers refreshing tastes and unique combinations that engage consumers. This focus on real fruit and innovative flavours is spurring growth in this already expanding category.


US sales of hard kombucha have seen remarkable growth, skyrocketing from approximately $20-$30 million in 2018 to over $200-$300 million in 2020. Predictions suggest sales could surpass $3 billion by 2026, as consumers increasingly opt for low-calorie, fruit-flavoured, functional beverages over traditional beer.


Hard kombucha presents an attractive opportunity with relatively low entry barriers compared to spirits or beer, requiring less than $100k in initial capital. The less stringent regulations compared to wine or beer allow for rapid production scaling and flavour innovation aligned with consumer trends.

California stands out as a significant market for hard kombucha, contributing to around 30% of total US sales and hosting most category producers. The state’s health-conscious demographic and favourable regulatory environment make it an ideal location for launching hard kombucha products.

Major cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco not only serve as test markets for new flavours and formats but also drive significant sales volume, facilitating brand expansion beyond California.


Despite its success, hard kombucha faces challenges, including the difficulty smaller brands face in achieving national recognition and securing consistent retail distribution outside major cities. Yet, the sector’s rapid growth and the increasing competition among the hundreds of brands in the U.S. suggest that the advantages currently outweigh the challenges.


The trends favouring hard kombucha – such as consumer demand for lighter, tastier, and healthier alcohol options – highlight the category’s potential. Brands that can differentiate themselves through exceptional taste, functional ingredients, and effective marketing have an opportunity to lead this burgeoning segment.


Leaders in the hard kombucha market, including Juneshine, Flying Embers and Boochcraft, have been instrumental in shaping consumer perceptions away from the traditional kombucha taste towards a more balanced, fruity profile. Newcomers like Mate Maker in San Diego are capitalising on this trend, emphasising fresh, juicy flavours that resonate with consumers.


The future of hard kombucha appears promising as both a business venture and a smart choice for health and wellness-focused consumers. As the market continues to evolve, companies prepared to meet the rising demand will find success in this exciting category.


#Beverage #Drink #Opinion

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