NCtrend: Wholly kombucha
On a 180-acre communal farm outside of Asheville, two moms are showing how a small-business loan from Whole Foods Market Inc. can mean big returns for a growing producer of kombucha tea. Jeannine Buscher and Sarah Schomber co-founded Asheville Kombucha Mamas LLC, which makes Buchi Kombucha. The duo, affectionately known as the Buchi Mamas, predict 50% growth in revenue in 2015 to $1.8 million.
Kombucha is a fermented black tea with probiotic properties that proponents say aid digestion, increase energy and boost immunity. Buchi started in 2008 in Buscher’s kitchen, and by summer 2010 they settled the brewery on Herb Mountain Farm in Weaverville, where they lease space. With demand exceeding expectations, Buchi sought a loan to pay for expansion. Efforts to secure a bank loan proved frustrating, so the duo applied to the Whole Foods Local Producer Loan Program, which provided two loans totaling $215,500, with 5% interest levied over 10 years. AdvantageWest, a public-private development partnership based in Fletcher, also issued two loans totaling $97,000. “We have been able to grow our company without losing any control to outside investors,” says Mike Numinous, who calls himself the company’s vision caster and kombucha ambassador. Buchi’s 15 full- and part-time workers have a combined 15% ownership, and many live on the farm.
Like many Asheville-area businesses, Buchi has a corporate ethos that embraces social responsibility. The 589,000 units sold in 2014, including bottles and sales on draft at restaurants, were made with fair-trade tea from Oakland, Calif.-based Numi Organic Tea, mountain water, and wild yeasts and other microbes indigenous to Appalachia. Schomber and Buscher donate a portion of sales to nonprofits. “We’re not business people capitalizing on a healthy trend. We are a tribe of people creating the kind of company and healthy product we want to see more of in the world,” said Schomber.
Though Buchi accounts for less than 1% of U.S. kombucha sales, all 42 mid-Atlantic Whole Foods stores carry its teas, including a flavor sold exclusively by the Austin, Texas-based company for the tenure of the loans. Buchi also can be found at independent retailers and cooperatives, supermarkets, bars and restaurants. Winning a national entrepreneurial contest in September 2014 sponsored by Fast Company magazine could spur growth — the prize was a $38,000 Mercedes Sprinter van and a $10,000 customizing budget, which the company used to convert the van into a tasting station to take to festivals.