Making kombucha is a logistical masterpiece. At least for the Health-Ade team, who are currently producing about 80,000 cases a week out of their newest brewery location. That space is 50k square feet, but talk to the team and they’ll admit they’re already running out of space and looking to build their next brewery.
For a company that began in a kitchen, with the three founders using glass bottles purchased from Bed, Bath & Beyond, it’s not a bad problem to have.
“I had a steady job, where I was moving up and getting awards, to start a kombucha company in the farmer’s market,” co-founder and CEO Daina Trout shares.
For about four months over the summer of 2012 the co-founders tried working the farmer's market circuit on nights and weekends while keeping on with their day jobs. “I was completely driving myself into a brick wall," Trout says. "I was starting to lose my mind."
Right around November 2012 is when the trio knew they couldn’t continue at this pace, nor were they doing a good job at either. They weren't going to expand,“certainly not into Whole Foods,” Trout says, if they didn't commit. So in December they shook hands, made a pact, and as of January 1, 2013 they were full time Health-Ade.
In their first year they sold around 20k cases. This year they are shooting to sell 3 million. “It’s been crazy fast growth since the beginning—we tripled last year and are projected to double again this year and next,” explains Trout.
If, the precisely run operations at their new factory location is any indication of them meeting that goal, consider it a done deal.
There are rows and rows of 2.5 gallon glass jars with their individual fermenting SCOBYs (the key ingredient of kombucha making). It looks like something out of Prometheus. (Except it’s delicious and isn’t out to kill off the human race.) There are massive vats of tea brewing, waiting to get poured into said glass jars to ferment. Tubes and filtration systems, including the first step of the process: a special water filtration system. (And some other proprietary info we can’t share.) It’s impressive. Beyond impressive. And since every case of kombucha takes four weeks to finish, and every flavor takes a different amount of time to ferment, that’s where you’ve got “the logistical masterpiece.” It’s something that every one of Health-Ade’s 120 employees knows all about.
Read more from Daina below about Health-Ade’s expansion, why she found herself in tears the other day, and how seeing people drink it on the street is still “the coolest thing ever.”
When you look at how much Health-Ade has grown, what are your thoughts?
When I take the time to look back and reminisce I am reminded we don’t do it enough. The other day I drove past the apartment in LA where it all started—brewing in the kitchen, fermenting in the apartment’s entry closet, and selling in farmers’ markets across LA in 2012. I wasn’t even planning to go there—I was bopping around from one important meeting to another, and I saw the street. I immediately took a detour to stop by. I have been SO go-go-go for the last 5 years, I haven’t ever gone back there. Not surprisingly, I broke down into tears when I saw it. I quickly recounted the days when the apartment was a full on brewery. I remember packing out the cars for the farmer’s markets at 4am every Sunday. I remember the work, the sweat and all the passion that went into getting it off the ground. Being there made me realize how far we have come. From a closet to a full on legitimate brewery, fastest growing kombucha in the world. It’s pretty cool. I’m overcome with emotion, really when I allow myself to think about it. Mostly pride, but also a lot of nostalgia joy and sadness (because it was mother-fucking hard as fuck). Health-Ade is a representation of our hard work. It’s one of the coolest things ever to see others drinking it on the street, still.
Are there fears associated with expanding?
I don’t really operate with a lot of fears. The biggest fear I have is dying without feeling like I gave it my best shot. I’m not afraid of expanding. I know we will make the right call, and that at each stage a new set of circumstances and opportunities will come about. Everyone told us we wouldn’t make it more than a year still brewing in glass jars, and they were wrong. So I really just don’t think you have to compromise on the things you care about.
"I don’t think you have to compromise on the things you care about."
Why the dedication to glass bottles?
Glass bottles are pretty much used by everyone in the category, so that doesn’t’ make us special. What makes us special is that we FERMENT in glass. Remember, it takes 4+ weeks sometimes to make 1 bottle of Health-Ade so what it’s sitting in is super important. Kombucha develops strong acids when it is fermenting and the pH gets as low as lemon juice, which can corrode stainless steel and plastic. It sits fermenting for a long time in these vessels, so we believe to be the highest quality you have to do this in glass (because you just don’t want metal or plastic leaching). That’s how the best balsamic vinegars are fermented in Modena, for example, 100% in glass! We’re proud to be the only kombucha we know of that does this all in glass. That’s why we’re not afraid to take you through the brewery and show you around!
How do you see the business growing over the next year?
We will be growing on every front, and those aren’t always the ones consumers see. It’s important each aspect of the business grows, not just the sales. This year, we will be saturating channels we hadn’t’ been in before as much, like convenience and club for example—but we’re also elevating our company in many other ways. Our marketing is doing some innovative things in creative to try to speak to a consumer that has never heard of kombucha before, and this involves getting to know PEOPLE, and what makes them tick. Our manufacturing is always upping the game by finding ways to do things better and faster without ever compromising (and only making better) the kombucha. Our operation is focused on sophistication as well—we’re focused on building an awesome company for employees: strong leadership, fun environment…a place you’d like to work, and you can grow by working there.