After spending many years as an artist working with beeswax as her primary medium, founder Holly Lyman developed an even stronger passion for fermentation after reading The Art of Fermentation by fermentation expert and author, Sandor Katz.
After working with Katz at the beginning of her foray into fermentation and making kombucha, Lyman gravitated towards using honey and green tea to create her first ‘jun’ kombucha formulation and a few years later, launched a hard alcoholic kombucha under the brand name Wild Tonic.
“That really gave me the permission to push the boundaries and ferment,” Lyman told FoodNavigator-USA.
The refrigerated kombucha and fermented beverages category registered modest growth last year (up 2.4% in US retail sales to $703.2m in measured channels in the year to July 12, 2020). And while a downturn in velocities within the natural channel suggest that the market may be reaching a maturation point in some markets (largely driven by declines from the top two players: GT’s and PepsiCo-owned KeVita), smaller players in the category such as Wild Tonic are still experiencing a strong upward trajectory.
“Wild Tonic is helping the category continue to grow. In July of this year we were the #1 brand for velocity in the country, which is huge for us. That tells us we’re reaching people, and we’re getting a lot of repeat customers because of the flavor profile,” claimed Lyman.
In June of last year, Wild Tonic launched its direct-to-consumer business answering strong consumer demand for at-home delivery.
Available nationwide at natural retailers including Sprouts and Whole Foods, Wild Tonic is beginning to make a play into more conventional retail channels where there's more opportunity for growth, said Lyman.
What is jun kombucha?
Following the same basic process as other kombuchas on the market (and the code of practice formalized by Kombucha Brewers International), Wild Tonic Jun Kombucha is fermented using a jun SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) used specifically for fermenting green tea and honey. The honey "feeds" the SCOBY, allowing probiotics, prebiotics and amino acids to naturally develop as the beverage ferments, according to the company.
For its hard kombucha, which has an ABV of 5.6% and 7.6% depending on the product, the liquid goes through a secondary fermentation process which raises the alcohol content, said Wild Tonic.
Tapping into kombucha growth opportunities
Lyman believes that jun kombucha, (sometimes referred to as the 'Champagne of kombucha,' she said) offers a smoother, lighter taste profile to consumers that may not enjoy the astringency of traditional kombucha.
“I think that Wild Tonic Jun Kombucha is absent of the vinegar overtones that are present in most traditional kombuchas. It’s very effervescent and approachable, and people that typically don’t like kombucha fall in love for that reason,” claimed Lyman.
At the beginning of 2020, the brand introduced its jun kombucha in slim cans, which have taken off with consumers (many who are new to the category), according to Lyman.
“They’ve been doing phenomenally well, and we’re going to start entering more conventional retails in the spring with the cans. They are great an option for people going hiking or wanting to take their kombucha on the road with them,” she said.
The company has rolled out new packaging designs as part of its branding efforts to appeal to a new audience of consumers.
Hard kombucha: ‘Consumers are looking for a healthier alternative’
As its second product to launch into the market, Lyman said that a core focus for the brand this year will be promoting its hard kombucha line, which has become increasingly popular with consumers as an alternative to beer and wine.
“Hard kombucha is a lot like hard seltzer in the sense that people are looking for a healthier alternative to go to for alcohol, and we’re happy to be a pioneer in that category,” noted Lyman.
Hard kombucha was also named one of the top 10 trends for 2021 by Whole Foods and identified as the next wave of growth for the category.
While the brand is very focused on growing awareness for its current portfolio, Lyman said that she is continuing to experiment with new functional herbs and that could be introduced into the company’s products further down the road.
“We are working with some other formulations and new flavors for our alcohol and non-alc lines, but it’s still very early,” said Lyman.