Sometimes, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. For Alison Zarrow and Caleb Cargle, what happened in Las Vegas influenced the creation of an increasingly successful beverage company and a new full-time career. After a long weekend with friends in Las Vegas — spending time in the sun and pool, as well as late nights out — the two were looking to refuel their bodies.
“They knew that kombucha would make them feel better, but the taste of the kombuchas on the market at the time didn’t appeal to them, with their vinegary taste and cloudy sediment,” explains Rachel Zarrow, vice president of marketing and creative director at Top Shelf Beverages Inc. “When they got back to the San Francisco Bay Area, they decided to create a filtered booch that’s smoother, easier and more fun to drink.
“They began brewing batch after batch of home-brews, sharing the best batches with friends until they had nailed the recipe,” she continues. “At that point, Ali and Caleb were having so much fun — and were feeling so good — that they knew they wanted to begin boochcrafting full time.”
In 2009, Cargle and Alison Zarrow founded San Francisco-based Top Shelf Beverages Inc. and launched its first product line.
With consumers’ growing interest in better-for-you products, their idea might have come at just the right time. In the United States and around the globe, kombucha markets have been experiencing notable growth, which is expected to continue, Rachel Zarrow explains.
“The U.S. kombucha market is experiencing tremendous growth as consumers are becoming increasingly health conscious,” she says. “More and more consumers are kicking their soda habits and looking for lower-sugar options. A recent report by Grand View Research Inc. predicts that the global kombucha market will reach $4.46 billion by 2024.”
As the market continues to grow, so, too, does Top Shelf Beverages. The company now offers two lines of fermented beverages, Clearly Kombucha and C Botanicals, which are distributed at several grocers nationwide and in Canada.
“Clearly Kombucha and C Botanicals are constantly growing in distribution throughout the conventional channels in the U.S. We’ve also had customer demand in Canada, many of whom found us on social media, and we’re gaining distribution in Canada now,” Rachel Zarrow explains.
Despite its growth, the company has remained committed to creating products that are both healthy and fun. Additionally, Top Shelf touts a commitment to transparency in all of its products. All of its fermented beverages are made using organic, Fair Trade and non-GMO ingredients, it says.
“Our company and our team are energized by a belief that people should be able to be healthy and have fun doing it,” Rachel Zarrow says. “Traditionally, soft drinks were considered ‘fun,’ while healthy food and drinks were not. And then we created something healthy and fun with Clearly Kombucha. Through continued innovation, we plan to name more healthy and fun products and to get them into more hands.”
Top Shelf Beverage’s flagship product — Clearly Kombucha — is a line of organic kombucha teas that are made with 100 percent raw kombucha and are certified gluten free and Non-GMO Project Verified, the company says.
Currently, it is offered in six flavors: Asian Pear, Black Currant, Raspberry Ginger, Raspberry Lemonade, Strawberry Hibiscus and its newest flavor, Ginger Mint Lemonade, which launched in the summer of 2016. The kombuchas are available nationwide and regionally at such retailers as The Fresh Market, Whole Foods Market, Safeway, Sprouts and Natural Grocers, among many others.
“The main goal with Clearly Kombucha is to create a light and refreshing, low-sugar kombucha that is easy to drink and easy on the eyes,” Rachel Zarrow explains. “… Unlike many other brands of booch, Clearly Kombucha is filtered, leaving the live cultures intact, but creating a more palatable drinking experience.”
After gaining distribution and consumer recognition, the lineup was given a facelift in 2015 with all new packaging. “[W]e launched our current, brightly colored labels with the brand’s iconic silver C displayed prominently on the front,” Rachel Zarrow says. “Clearly Kombucha’s visual language speaks loudly to the brand’s core value that you come alive when you lighten up, with bright colors and organic designs to position it as the kombucha you bring to a party.”
Top Shelf Beverages took its fermentation expertise a step further with the 2016 launch of C Botanicals, a line of fermented botanicals and aromatics. Made from fermenting herbs and plants with probiotics, C Botanicals is certified organic and offered in five flavors: Turmeric Cardamom, Lemongrass, Strawberry Milk Thistle, Ginger Root and Holy Basil. The line is available nationwide at Natural Grocers and Sprouts, with regional distribution through several other retailers, Rachel Zarrow says.
“C Botanicals were inspired by nature,” she explains. “We’re fascinated by the amazing properties of botanical ingredients, and we wanted to create the perfect brew that has the benefits of botanicals, fermentation and probiotics.”
The ingredients for each flavor were selected because of the health benefits they offer, Rachel Zarrow explains. “Each of the five varieties of C Botanicals … is made with ingredients selected for the ingredients’ healthful properties (e.g., milk thistle to detoxify the body, turmeric to help reduce inflammation, etc.)”
Health and wellness also influenced the line’s packaging, Rachel Zarrow explains. “C Botanicals is crafted to be the perfect ‘me’ drink, created on the idea that you come alive when you treat yourself the way you’d like to be treated, what the company calls ‘the golden rule 2.0.,’” she says. “To distill this golden rule into a visual language, the brand’s C logo is printed in gold, an effect achieved with custom ink blends printed on chrome BOPP. The cap, also gold, [is] paired with the gold logo [to] create a premium feel for the product line, hinting at the high quality of the ingredients and the care that goes into each bottle, inside and out.”
The packaging also plays a key role in differentiating the C Botanicals and Clearly Kombucha lines. “C Botanicals speaks a slightly different visual language [than Clearly Kombucha], with a subdued pastel color palette to reflect its alleviative properties as a beverage to be consumed for restoration and healing,” Rachel Zarrow explains. “Each of the five labels features hand-painted watercolors of its ingredients, designed by Maria Schoettler. These are overlaid on an ombre watercolor background, also painted by Schoettler.”
But C Botanicals isn’t the end of innovation for Top Shelf Beverages, according to Rachel Zarrow. As a company rooted in innovation, Top Shelf Beverages will continue to innovate wherever it can.
She notes that the company is planning to add new flavors to the Clearly Kombucha lineup as well as some first-of-their-kind products.
“Coming from San Francisco, innovation is part of our DNA,” Rachel Zarrow says. “We started by creating the first filtered kombucha to hit the market, which fit the demands of the conventional channel, which is where the biggest growth market is headed. … But innovation for us is not just about new flavors and new product categories. We also have innovated in the brewery with ways to control production, fermentation and everything that goes into our bottles — we are brewers after all.” BI