Another drink controversy: kombucha and Whole Foods


UPDATED|
We’re still settling in over the changes in the world of coconut water (read our post on the dear-departed Zico) and now there is the case of the mysteriously disappearing kombucha.

Well, it disappeared from shelves at Whole Foods stores last week, although the mystery was quickly explained. The company announced that several kombucha suppliers voluntarily removed their products after concerns were raised that the alcohol content was higher than the 0.5 percent line, above which products are required to contain a government warning. Kombucha is advertised as having trace amounts of alcohol, because of the fermentation process, but Whole Foods said it wants the process more closely controlled so the level stays below the allowable level for a non-alcoholic drink.

There are some conspiracy theories circling, a few described in this BevNet.com article, that this is more about cracking the dominance of GT Dave’s in the kombucha market than it is about alcohol levels. GT Dave’s brand is by far the most popular brand of kombucha, a market in which other brands are trying to make headway.

But whatever is going on, it has crimped the business of another popular drink among yogis. GT Dave’s dominates the category because it is by far the most authentic of the widely available brands. Like coconut water, kombucha doesn’t necessarily benefit from mass-production techniques. So the fact that major beverage bottlers like Coca-Cola (through its Honest Tea brand) are trying to get a foothold in the category doesn’t mean it will be a quality foothold.

Kombucha spawned energetic debate long before Whole Foods pulled the plug. To some, it’s a wonder drink that helps digestion. Others can’t stand the taste or smell or the fact that it often explodes when you open a bottle. It has dedicated drinkers and people who recoiled the first time they saw the price tag. (Whole Foods stores in New York sold it at the relatively low price of $3.29. Others in the city charge up to $4.99 a bottle.)

Whatever side you fall on, the fizz has created a lot of recent buzz.

UPDATE|
Interview with GT Dave by MindBodyGreen blog. Dave says a solution will happen in coming weeks. Stay tuned.

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2 Responses to Another drink controversy: kombucha and Whole Foods

  1. Kat Fulton says:

    Is it off the shelves??? Bummer. I LOVE that drink! And especially the gingerade. I hope that the customer demand brings it back soon. Thanks for posting this.

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