As consumers, we expect foods to be correctly labelled but in the rapidly-expanding kombucha category, this might not be true
The market has tripled in size since 2016, but many products are adulterated variants which deviate from the traditional recipe.
That’s according to #TheRealKombuchaRevolution – a coalition of traditional UK craft kombucha brewers – which says some even contain added sweeteners such as erythritol and steviol glucosides that, until recently, were banned from use in soft drinks within the EU.
They were banned due to their potential (in sufficient quantity) to irritate the gut-lining and cause bloating and diahorrea – the very digestive issues which real, gut-supporting kombucha is known to alleviate.
Yet few manufacturers of drinks sold as kombucha mention the industrialised processes their brands undergo, as required by food labelling Reg No. 1169/1911.
When Gary Leigh launched kombucha into the UK retail sector in 2003 he foresaw today’s trends towards natural, low sugar soft drinks and alcohol alternatives.
“Like other fermented foods that are also being processed to stabilise and extend shelf life yet are sold as the real thing, traditional raw kombucha made with basic ingredients and no adulteration or additives is now recognised by science as also conferring a benefit to gut health,” he says.
“When you start removing its individual beneficial components – such as filtering the yeasts or pasteurising to kill the bacteria – it’s no longer wholesome kombucha made in small, fully fermented batches.
“Yet that’s what consumers assume they are buying into when they see the likes of Dr Michael Mosley and Liz Earle extolling the virtues of traditional kombucha on TV, only to then find an industrialised ‘kombucha’ variant in a supermarket.”
#TheRealKombuchaRevolution is campaigning for greater transparency and label compliance to stop processed variants sold as ‘kombucha’ knocking traditional UK brands off retail shelves.
“When processed ‘kombucha’ boasting ‘Proudly Australian made’ on the label is shipped 10,000 miles in plastic bottles to be sold in UK supermarkets, that can only grate,” says Lou Dillon of Twisted Kombucha.
Despite winning six Great Taste Awards and with customers including celebrities and sports people, Leigh’s GO Kombucha range was delisted from Whole Foods in June after 13 years, leaving a bitter taste.
“I built up the kombucha category from scratch, but money talks and we can’t compete by offering stores three months’ supply of mass-manufactured shelf fill.
“So traditional homegrown brands have united to call for a level playing field via label compliance and transparency; to safeguard our industry and livelihoods and to protect the consumer’s right to know what they are buying.”
“Transparency and honesty from ‘kombucha’ producers in the UK is paramount in order to educate consumers as to the attributes of the kombucha products that they are purchasing under the belief that they’ll all contribute towards better gut health equally,” says Genevieve Boast, Head of Sustainability at Equinox Kombucha.
Last week another traditional homegrown kombucha brand, Fix8, announced it is shutting shop, squeezed off the shelves by mass-produced variants that the health conscious will nevertheless buy believing them to be the same thing.
“It’s a sleight of hand that is deceiving consumers at our expense,” says Colin Wynne, founder of Nutra Kombucha.
“It has to stop.”