For this weeks Founder Focus we’re catching up with Gina Geoghegan, founder of North-London based kombucha brand ‘Wild Fizz Kombucha‘. A vibrant and energetic brand with listings in Planet Organic, Wholefoods, As Nature Intended – and more.
Here we chat with Gina about the health benefits of kombucha, health and lifestyle trends, and the challenges of running a startup business.
We love the Wild Fizz Kombucha story on your website, and Gina your personal health reasons behind the brand – for anyone who isn’t familiar, could you remind us what made you start a kombucha brand?
I discovered Kombucha on a trip to the U.S a few years ago. I loved its tart, sweet taste and delicious goodness. After a few days hooked on the ‘booch, I noticed that my IBS symptoms had pretty much disappeared. Having struggled with IBS since my early 20’s, I had tried everything I could to manage my condition with little success, but this was a major game changer. In fact, that trip changed the course of my life…as I sat in the Arizona Desert I started thinking…can I start a Kombucha company? And here I am today.
How you would summarise the health benefits of drinking kombucha?
The health benefits of Kombucha are unique to everyone who drinks it. Kombucha is a live product which contains tea, sugar & live cultures. The cultures consist of various (kind and lovely and nice) strains of Bacteria, Yeasts and Acids and they are the magic ingredients.
In terms of hard facts there are no large scale studies that prove that Kombucha can cure cancer or keep you young and beautiful. There are however a growing amount of science as well as testimonial evidence that seem to show that drinking Kombucha makes people feel better and can resolve certain ailments.
What I can tell you is that it did resolve my IBS when nothing else could, and is still keeping me off the loo! I also get emails every week from people who feel like their overall health has improved by drinking booch which is gospel to me!
I like to use an analogy when asked why I think it works. Imagine that you’re a monoculture. Living a stressful lifestyle, with bad food, not enough sleep and little access to wilderness we are starved of diversity, both within and outside ourselves. Drinking Kombucha is like drinking a rainforest. You are adding a wide variety of wild organisms into your system, who can help diversify and re-wild your gut. In nature a diverse biosphere has a stronger ability to fight threats, deal with environmental pressures and survive in lean times, so why wouldn’t your insides be the same?
What were the difficulties in scaling up such a craft led beverage from brewing at home, to larger tanks for commercial production?
So many to name here, but all I can say is it takes time, patience and a keen interest in chemistry to get it right. I am still learning, making mistakes, understanding my cultures better every day. It is very different doing it in 1000lit tanks then at home in a kilner jar, but there is nothing you can’t learn from youtube videos.
Kombucha is still a relatively new beverage concept within the UK – what are the challenges in educating a consumer and trying to bring that to a mass market at the same time?
The challenges are enormous, for us the face to face with our new consumer is key to getting across why we think Kombucha is the best thing ever. The way we do this is through sampling in store and through our social channels.
Sampling gives us the face to face opportunity to convert people into booch lovers for life and a chance to answer questions and tell our story to them in a direct way.
Instagram and social media are super important because we can reach out to more people and educate in a much broader way. It’s not as personal as a face to face, but it means we get to talk to more people. A combination of these things are how we communicate to our audience, new and old.
Bringing something to the mass market is something that takes time, and the category is growing healthily every year with new brands entering the market. I think that all of us (Kombucha brands) together are doing a good job in creating an awareness around the category. It’s a team effort at the moment, as most UK brands are small start ups with little money to spend on marketing.
The fizzy nature and taste of kombucha lends itself well to a cocktail mixer/alcohol pairing – do you think healthier alcoholic beverage options will start to enter the market following the soft drinks transition we are seeing?
Absolutely! Kombucha is perfect in a cocktail and on it’s own. So it’s perfect for a market and a consumer looking for LONO and healthier & more informed drinking choices.
We recently interviewed food expert Jane Milton who stated we are seeing a big trend emerging next year for functional and health led beverages – what trends do you see emerging in 2019?
- CBD for sure, this is something we are super interested in. Cannabis oil is looking like the magic wonder elixir that can fix anything
- Nootropics, such as Lions Mane, Chinese Moss, Curcurmin (in Turmeric), L-Theanine (in Green tea), Rosemary – anything that naturally enhances your cognitive ability, feeds your brain and makes your memory better are going to be all the rage, there was a lot of interest in 2018 and that is just growing
- Rest. As a mother and business owner I have come close to burn out and I think that REST is going to be the big one in 2019 – rest from screens in particular, and more time in nature
- Cold Showers – can’t stress enough how good these are for you- and 2019 will be a big year for shivering health!
And on that note – health and in particular our gut health has been a hot topic this year. Aside from kombucha, what other fermented foods and recommendations do you have for us?
Kimchi – we eat tons of it every week! It’s delicious and super good for you. There are loads of fermented products, Kefir, Sourdough bread and Saurkraut. Just make sure it’s alive and organic and you’re OK.
What are the biggest challenges in competing with other kombucha brands entering the market at the same time, and also the existing beverage giants?
Money. We are a couple that took all our life savings and started a company based on the belief that Kombucha can change the way you feel. There are lots of brands out there who are capitalising on the word Kombucha without actually making it properly, using shortcuts to create a drink that smells and tastes like Kombucha but which is lacking in the actual living part of the drink.
It’s hard to compete so we try to remind ourselves that as long as we are true to our original idea then we will grow a core audience that can help us grow. We can’t compete with the likes of Pepsico so we have to just be smarter than them, and make a product we can be proud of. I think in the end that is what the future holds – savvy consumers who want to be healthy can see through the bullshit.
We’ve seen some fantastic brand collaborations between yourselves and lifestyle brands like the Gut Stuff, along with a range of restaurant partnerships and delicious cocktail pairings – what is on the cards for Wild Fizz Kombucha in 2019?
I can’t really say, but whatever it is it’s all about your microbiome – how to promote your inner rainforest.
And finally – what advice would you give a startup / founder looking to launch a product into the F&B market?
Do a lot of research before you throw yourself into something, and then do it anyway!