Fast forward ten years and it is now the only B Corp company selling the fermented, health benefit packed drink in the whole of Europe and since the pandemic, sales have gone through the roof.
The ancient fermented tea is said to have originated in East Asia and Japan up to 2,000 years ago and naturally sparkling it is full of vitamins, antioxidants and good for gut health. It also has the bonus of being naturally low in sugar because during the fermentation process, the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) that is used during the process consumes the sugar and transforms it into heathy organic acids.
These include acetic, gluconic and glucuronic acids which are great for the body’s detoxification process as they enhance liver function, meaning it can work to its optimum level to remove pollutants and chemicals from the body.
Genevieve Boast works for Equinox as Head of Sustainability and Storytelling.
She said: “Our founders, Daphne Charest and Robbie Charles brought the cultures back from Thailand and they had an investor who loaned them the money to set up home brewing in the kitchen. At this point, it was quite unheard of especially in Europe and so they started selling the culture at local markets and right from the beginning there were certain ethical credentials that were non-negotiable for them.”
Genevieve explained that producing authentic kombucha means that strict procedures must be adhered to and no shortcuts – by watering it down, filtering, pasteurising or adding the cultures afterwards - can be taken.
She added: “The labelling isn’t always clear, so people will go to the supermarket and pick up a drink that says ‘kombucha’ but it may only have 5% of the culture in there – so while people are drinking it, they’re not getting the benefits.
“We brew everything ourselves; we grow our own SCOBYs we bottle all our own products and we end to end control - over our operational systems and our supply chains and the kind of partners we work with. Some of the bigger the bigger companies out there who have been bought out effectively by trade buyers to try and push this educational message of ‘Kombucha is amazing’ which it is - but only if it's made properly and left to ferment properly.”
Equinox has been on a mission to educate and engage customers and the pandemic provided the perfect platform as people became more interested in what they were putting into their bodies and interest in immunity-related products soared.
Towards the end of 2021, Equinox was a European market leader and sealing deals with celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingsall and his River Cottage brand.
Robbie’s younger brother, Rupert, manages the brewery and has been given the quirky title ‘kombucha alchemist’ and it is his job to pay attention to trends and at the moment, there is still a massive shift towards an alcohol-free way of life.
Genevieve says: “Rupert worked last year to bring out one of our new seasonal flavours, which is a virgin Mojito flavoured kombucha so it has our real living kombucha and he combined it with organic cold pressed lime juice and mint juice and that has fast become our top-selling line. Kombucha and fermented foods are good for your physical health and people are really starting to connect into that by asking what they are putting into their bodies – whether food is medicine or poison. My body loves it, I've literally not been sick for four years.”
Equinox say there is still a big gap in the UK and European market and so the company is going to carry out a second 14-day study asking people to drink one can a day to see whether they see improvements to their digestion, energy, emotions and sleep.
They did a similar challenge in 2019, reaching out to nutritionists and universities to ask people to participate.
Genevieve added: “Everyone I got feedback from said that with without a doubt every single one of those aspects improves in some way.”
The Europe kombucha market is expected to project a compound annual growth rate of 24.6% over the forecast of 2019 to 2028, with the key market drivers including a shift in consumer preferences and the introduction of flavoured kombucha according to Market Data Forecast. So it looks like this business that started off in a small kitchen is going to continue to grow to meet the increasing demands of the more health-conscious.