The brand’s differentiator in the kombucha space was mainstream soda flavors. “We have a cola, and a root beer, and a lemon lime—that was always my purpose in what I do, providing an alternative and healthy option for people [who drink soda],” he said.
“I started LIVE Beverages for my dad, who has always been a self-proclaimed soda addict. Instead of taking away his soda, I created a kombucha substitute that tasted like cola,” Ross added. The Austin-based brand launched its Sparkling Drinking Vinegar line in September 2016 to bring even more soda-alternatives to the market.
This new line of 12oz bottles contain two tablespoons of raw apple cider and coconut vinegars blended with organic fruit juice and water, with only 2-3 grams of sugar per serving (from the juice), and is lightly sweetened with stevia.
“I feel like drinking vinegars are where kombucha was four years ago, and I think it can be bigger than kombucha because of the familiarity of the product. There’s less of an education factor—you don’t have to tell someone how to pronounce it, people get it,” he added.
Kombucha versus drinking vinegar
For consumers new to the category, a blind-taste test to tell apart kombucha and drinking vinegar may prove difficult. “Drinking vinegars are very different from kombucha in some ways, yet very similar in others,” Ross said.
Kombucha naturally produces organic acids during fermentations, and a lot of these acids are similar between the two beverage types. In fact, kombucha is often referred to as ‘tea vinegar.’
Where the difference emerges is in the bacteria strains that appear in the beverages. “[Bacteria] are the backbone of kombucha, whereas [they] play a much lesser role in drinking vinegars,” he added.
Increasing demand for ‘sour’ drinks
As more consumers deem sugar as the main culprit in today’s most rampant health issues, trend and market analysts have seen an uptick in demand for sour, tart, and vinegary beverages. Live Beverage’s growth has been boosted by this macrotrend.
Live Beverages started out with just four full-time employees at the time of launch, and has since grown to 30 people, while retail sales have been outpacing the category, Ross said. “It shows us that what we’re doing works, and that people are actually looking for an alternative to that carbonated soft drink,” he added.
Propped up by kombucha’s popularity, Ross said that drinking vinegars, though still in their infancy, are growing fast. Live Beverage’s positioning and marketing strategy targets “older millennials, natural foodstore consumers, a lot of the people who were early adopters into the space, as well as people who are actively seeking an alternative to that sweetened fizzy beverage,” Ross said.
The new line of Sparkling Drinking Vinegars sell for $2.69 per bottle in nationwide retailers such as Whole Foods Market, Safeway/Albertson’s, HEB, and Sprouts.
“It’s interesting to see excitement around the category build, even the recent entrants besides us, and I believe it’s going to be a growing category to come,” Ross said.