Hard kombucha continues to push the standards of the beverage

23 Sep 2020

Aqua ViTea, one of the largest distributors of kombucha in the U.S., is adding two more, alcoholic flavors to its profile: Cherry Sour and Apricot Dream. Each flavor contains 5% ABV and is a gluten-free, non-GMO, low-sugar libation with better-for-you attributes such as probiotics, antioxidants, b-vitamins and detoxifying acids.

Called AfterGlow Hard Kombucha, the beverage line is by Aqua ViTea and is available in four-packs for $9.99 and six-packs for $12.99 in select markets. "AfterGlow Hard Kombucha is made from the naturally occurring alcohol that kombucha generates during fermentation, so it’s a more natural option than spiked seltzers,” Jeff Weaber, Founder of AfterGlow Hard Kombucha by Aqua ViTea said in a release.

Hard kombucha continues to push the standards of the beverage
Photo Courtesy of Aqua ViTea

Kombucha has recaptured attention in recent months as the U.S. market has been riddled with lawsuits over alcohol content and the industry’s trade association's, Kombucha Brewers International (KBI), attempts to solidify a definition for the beverage. However, despite the legal trials and tribulations for kombucha manufacturers, the product remains popular with consumers and investors are continuing to pour dollars into the space.

With Inkwood Research estimating a compound annual growth rate of 25.9% through 2025 that is anticipated to drive the category's market value to $2.7 billion, industry titans and VC firms alike have flocked to the space. Coca-Cola invested $20 million in Health-Ade Kombucha, and Flying Embers hard kombucha closed a $25 million venture funding round last fall.

Within the overall category, alcoholic kombucha is an interesting product. It straddles the definition of kombucha that KBI recently debuted and it also appeals to a niche demographic, which is mostly married women with children between 28 and 45, according to research from AB InBev’s ZX Ventures. Despite its positioning, there is plenty of competition in the space showing that having a slightly higher alcohol content in a better-for-you beverage is appealing for consumers.

The alcohol content in hard kombucha is primarily what puts it outside of KBI's proposed definition for the beverage. In the code of practice that KBI established and released this summer, kombucha is permitted to have an alcohol level between 0% and 3.2%. AfterGlow has an alcohol content well above that at 5%, putting it closer to the range of beer.

“We believe there is room for both non-alcoholic and hard kombucha in the market, provided it’s properly marketed, regulated, and explained to consumers so people know what they are getting,” said Weaber.

KBI's standards are not mandatory; the trade association previously considered pursing a standard of identity designation with the FDA but forsook that path. Despite not being mandatory, the standardized definitions have significant support for kombucha producers looking to earn a “certified kombucha” label by complying with these strict definitions.

As hard kombucha does not qualify for that certification based on its alcohol content, it will be interesting to observe how the niche develops and aligns itself with both the kombucha and the alcohol industries.

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