Internet personality Brittany Broski has risen to ultimate influencer fame. She’s even met her idol, Harry Styles, because of it. Broski rose to internet fame after a video of her trying kombucha went viral on TikTok in 2019, and she became known as the “Kombucha Girl.” In the video, Broski notes how the beverage smells and makes numerous funny facial expressions, which were made into memes across social media platforms.
Erin Costello, communications and events associate for Niles, Ill.-based Imbibe, says that kombucha’s taste profile “can be polarizing,” and referenced Broski’s famous video. But, Costello adds, “Kombucha Girl” was not the first time kombucha was trending on social media.
“Gut health has been a major concern for consumers and really took off in the past couple of years as the benefits of a healthy microbiome were popping up all over social media,” she explains. “Views for videos containing #guttok on TikTok nearly doubled in 2022, reaching almost 770 million as of January 2023. Many creators in this space centered their content around kombucha, as it’s highly attributed to being a remedy for this need state and boasts a long list of nutrients, including probiotics, enzymes and multiple B vitamins.”
Costello says that a decreased amount of bloating is one of the biggest factors resonating with consumers in regard to maintaining a healthy gut, as both gut health and weight loss were ranked in the Top 3 health concerns of 2022, according to the International Food Information Council Report.
“This goes hand-in-hand with the interest in and proliferation of better-for-you sodas, that generally contain a lower sugar and calorie content than their traditional counterparts,” she adds. “Many of the [carbonated soft drinks] (CSDs) in this space are centered on having gut-healing ingredients, like Poppi and Olipop … We have also seen line extensions from already established market players, including the new flavor Orange Splash from Remedy Drinks and Mortal Kombucha’s Basillion Strawberries.”
She notes that consumers increasing preference for functional beverages over CSDs and juices, along with growing awareness for nutritional benefits of kombucha, will continue “to fuel the growth” of kombucha.
Haleigh Resetar, corporate communications specialist at Chicago-based SPINS, also says that, as shoppers search for products with natural probiotics, the kombucha industry has blossomed. Additionally, consumers continue to demand more from their beverages, she notes.
“There is a growing trend where consumers are seeking out functional beverages that provide health benefits in addition to quenching their thirst,” Resetar says. “We are seeing beverages toting claims for cognitive health, mood support and even immune health hitting the shelves.”
According to SPINS, in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 1, 2023, kombucha sales grew 3.4% by dollar growth, at $694 million in revenue. However, unit sales declined, at 1.3%.
A healthy brew
Many functional benefits are linked to kombucha, as SPINS’ Resetar notes, even if the taste “can turn off some potential customers.” She says those interested in its benefits will not view flavor as a deterrent.
“Many brands have taken the flavor challenge in stride and are coming up with flavors and formulas that even kombucha naysayers will happily add to their fridge,” she adds.
Growing and trending flavors, according to SPINS, include mango, apple, peach and mint.
“Of the health focus attributes associated with kombucha, the most considered is digestive health, but many products are starting to include ingredients that are beneficial to other trending health concerns,” Resestar says. “Many consumers attracted to kombucha are interested in label claims and clean labels to ensure the product is following their dietary needs and expectations.”
In the 52 weeks ending Jan. 1, 2023, the health focus categories of digestive health and cognitive health had sales of $663 million and $11.6 million, respectively, according to SPINS. Label claims like organic and non-GMO saw sales of $660 million and $634 million, respectively, in the same time frame.
“Apart from these label claims, shoppers are concerned with the amount of sugar or the type of sugar being added to create their favorite beverage,” Resetar says. “Products without any sugar are growing at 6.1% with $355 million in revenue. Rather than sugar, brands are opting for sugar alcohols such as erythritol.”
An alternative kind of alcohol
Imbibe’s Costello points out that consumers often are opting for healthier alternatives, especially when it comes to alcohol.
“Hard kombucha is a common swap for traditional beer, seltzer, cocktails or wine,” she says. “While hard seltzers and ‘light’ wines have [been] blowing up because of their lower calorie and sugar attributes, hard kombucha offers an additional level of benefit due to its functionality for supporting a healthy gut, reducing inflammation and boosting immune health.”
Citing data from IWSR, Costello says the category of hard kombucha is expected to grow 75% in the United States from 2022 through 2025, although the category still is small.
“This past year, there was a slew of new hard offerings on the market including Happy J’s cocktail-inspired flavors Mango & Ginger and Mint & Lime,” she says. “Category veteran Juneshine has added kombucha-based canned cocktails to their portfolio, including a Tequila Ranch Water, Classic Mule and Passionfruit Vodka Soda. If brands are able to crack the code of shelf-stable hard kombucha, these products would be able to compete with other [ready-to-drink] RTD canned cocktails in a bigger way.”
SPINS’ Resetar notes that hard kombucha was popular at the start of 2021, with 131.1% growth year-over-year (YOY). She says this rate was, unfortunately, unsustainable in a sector like alcohol, which has been “a hub for innovation and emerging products” in recent years.
“In 2022, the growth slowed down to 29.9% and this year, the growth is -7.9%,” Resetar says. “There is still room for products to succeed in this space, but we expect that hard kombucha will continue to slowly level off in growth as new products, particularly of the non-alcoholic variety such as spirits and beer, enter the market.”
Imbibe’s Costello says producers meeting consumer demand is crucial because of ever-changing drinking habits. In the past two years, premium-priced RTDs have grown faster than any segment, she notes.
But prices “in almost every other” category have increased as well, Costello says. “This also could be a chance for private label players to be successful in this space.”
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