According to preliminary IWSR data for 2019, last year hard kombucha category volumes more than doubled in the US. While hard kombuchas broke onto the alcohol scene a few years ago, their popularity gained traction across the West coast, and has since branched to the East coast and beyond. The IWSR forecasts the category to surge 34% in the US over the next five years, based on preliminary findings.
Made with tea, scoby and other natural flavors, this fermented beverage demands a premium price point. Leading brands average $0.32/ounce or $3.80 for a 12oz serving, more than triple the price of leading hard seltzer brands and nearly five times the price of leading craft beers. In the non-alcoholic RTD market, regular kombucha grew 25% in 2019, and is now a billion-plus dollar category expected to more than triple over the next five years.
The flavour profile of kombucha has a unique appeal to both the craft sour beer lover and the sparkling wine aficionado (especially the natural wine consumer). And with ABVs ranging from 3-8%, hard kombuchas offer an alternative to higher-alcohol products. In the on-premise, more Michelin dining establishments are beginning to offer kombucha and food pairings as part of their low-ABV beverage options. California’s new law allowing multiple alcohol categories to use the same equipment and space during production will likely increase the number of producers in this field as well.
One of the key factors driving kombucha’s market appeal is the drink’s association with healthy living, primarily with probiotics, which are beneficial to gut health. While the TTB forbids alcohol producers from making any health claims, there is a consumer perception that the perceived health benefits of regular kombucha carry over to its alcoholic counterpart.
Kombucha also benefits from its association with the RTD category, whose consumers seem to enjoy having a variety of flavour options available and the opportunity to alternate between different taste profiles, such as spicy ginger-jalapeno or a sweeter strawberry-hibiscus.
As consumers increasingly accept canned packaging for high-end alcohol beverages, hard kombucha producers will benefit from the cost savings associated with moving from traditional glass bottle packaging to lighter aluminium cans.
One consideration for producers is how kombucha will deliver on sessionability: consumers may not be as likely to drink multiple vinegar-like drinks in a single occasion. When compared to the more-sessionable hard seltzer universe, for example, IWSR data shows the average number of hard seltzers consumed per occasion is 2.83 servings.
But as consumers prove to have a continued interest in wellbeing and mindful drinking, and as industry players invest more into the niche category, expanding distribution networks across the country, the IWSR anticipates more brands, flavours and venues to offer hard kombucha.
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