Kombucha sales are soaring and business is thriving for boutique producers. Interest in the fizzy fermented drink continues to grow as kombucha develops into a booming industry in Australia with an estimated value of $200 million.

For the uninitiated, kombucha is a tart and slightly bitter drink that is carbonated like beer. It is made from a fermented tea that borders on the 0.5% alcohol threshold. It’s a crossover drink that appeals to multiple consumer preferences, with flavours combining to make it a stand-alone product. It also works great when added to other alcoholic beverages even creating cocktails with a “health” halo.

Kombucha is touted for a variety of health benefits including detoxification, joint health, digestion/gut health and immune-boosting properties.

Australia’s first commercial kombucha producer was Mojo Beverages in South Australia. Mojo has been using the same scoby to produce its drinks since 2009 and founder Anthony Crabb jokes the scoby is cared for almost like the Brits care for the crown jewels.

“It’s a really important part of what we do,” he says. “It is a little bit like the baker’s yeast, nobody gets to see it and it is guarded heavily because that’s where we get our fermentation from and our flavours.”

Mojo is stocked in major retailers including Woolworths and IGA nationally and the business turns over between $5 million and $7 million a year.

“It’s an enormous growth story that is not letting up at all as people look for healthier options, being low sugar and pro-biotic,” said Crabb.

“We see the Australian market has got a number of years to grow as it is still in a growth phase at the moment,” Crabb says. “There is also a lot of interest for export, particularly Asia in Singapore, and Japan.”

Big business is also taking notice with brewing giant Lion snapping up a stake in the locally produced Remedy brand while Pepsi has also entered the kombucha business taking over KeVita in the United States.

Sugar content in foods is becoming of increasing interest to Aussies, both from a health and wellness perspective and as result, consumers are switching to perceived healthier drink alternatives such as Kombucha, at an accelerated rate.

It’s even knocked carbonated soft drink sales off the leader board and produced record-sales for supermarket giants like Coles and Woolworths.

“Over the past 12 months, we have seen tremendous growth in the health drinks category and Kombucha has been one of the most popular products for our customers,” said a Coles spokesman.

Woolworths has also seen a massive spike in the last year with its category growing 457 per cent.

The biggest ‘booch’ drinkers are in NSW closely followed by Queensland with Woolies revealing its category sales growing by almost seven times on the previous year.

Kombucha is also turning up in local pubs, thanks to producers like The Bucha of Byron who brew a sparkling raw probiotic drink in partnership with Stone & Wood Brewing Co. It looks like a beer and gives drinkers a low-sugar alternative to alcohol or sugary soft drinks.  The brand is on tap at venues like Garden State Hotel in Melbourne and the Beach Hotel in Byron Bay.

Other venues like The Greens at North Sydney are using it in kombucha cocktails, bringing the brew to life in another unexpected way. The flavour profile is hugely versatile and adds a nice bit of complexity while having the benefit of lower sugar. It works well extremely well with gin, vodka and dry vermouth.

If your venue is not aboard the “booch” train yet, it could be worth giving it a go. It’s not often that a whole new drink category comes around, and we all know that the early adopters and innovators reap the rewards.

Sources: Foodservice Trends, ABC, News