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Salt Spring Island Kombucha Co.: A Giving and Receiving Business Model

    Business Profiles    November 21, 2016

Champagne of life. Divine che. Hero fungus. Jellyfish. Little Japanese mother. Manchurian mushroom. Russian tea vinegar. Teemost. Titania. Yaponge.*

You probably know it as kombucha. Lea Weir, owner of the Salt Spring Island Kombucha Co., affectionately refers to this worldly and ancient “culture” as booch.

Booch can be an acquired taste for many. But the time to acquire that taste can be minimized by sampling any of Lea’s effervescent ambrosias. Her kombucha flavours include Elderflower Ginger, Hibiscus Lemonbalm, Lavender Mint, Wild Rose and, soon-to-be available in bottles, Chaga Chai with five medicinal mushrooms and Turmeric Citrus.

Salt Spring Island Kombucha Co. is in its fourth year, but Lea’s still excited and inspired by her work. When she starts her day, she’s motivated by continuing to build a business that’s based on a new model of giving and receiving:

“We can give a product that is truly good for people, that benefits their lives and health, but is also a business that can survive and thrive and give back the lifestyle that we want. We’re not about taking from people, hurting their bodies, or causing addictions, but about giving something that is truly of value in people’s lives.”

Lea’s Giving and Receiving Business Model

First, her recipes start with antioxidant-rich yerba mate and become herbal infusions using organic and wildcrafted herbs, many from her garden, and the purest water. This means her booch is not only delicious but also medicinal. And kombucha is already a potent probiotic tea full of enzymes, micronutrients, and vitamins that provide a multitude of health benefits.

Second, she listens to what her customers want. Initially, Lea was bottling her booch. And then people started telling her about this big trend in Oregon and California: kombucha on tap!

It made sense. She wanted the Salt Spring Island Kombucha Co. to be a green company, and selling on tap meant less packaging. Less packaging made her products more economical for her customers and for her business.

Third, she said “yes” to a greener product, which benefits everybody. In her second year at the market, she introduced the kegerator with kombucha on tap. Then Ingredients Market and Community Café in Victoria asked for the same setup. It was a new concept, but she thought, “Why not?”

Now Lea sells booch on tap at twenty-one locations―bars, breweries, cafés, restaurants, and health food stores―and bottles in thirty-two health food stores in Vancouver, around Vancouver Island, and on the Gulf Islands.

I found my first bottle at Country Grocer―the light and bubbly Lavender Mint. My summer quench! The warm colours and artistic image of Lea’s new labels, designed by Cristian Fowlie, caught my eye. Shoppers have many kombuchas to choose from there, but Lea said that Country Grocer is one of the best-selling spots on the island for her kombucha, and she ’s touched by the community’s support.

The support in general has been so great that Salt Spring Island Kombucha Co. has outgrown its small commercial kitchen and potential retailers are being asked for their patience while she looks for a new production facility and for investors. Want to get in on Lea’s giving and receiving business model?

*Kaufmann, K. (2013). Kombucha rediscovered: The medicinal benefits of an ancient healing tea. Summertown, TN: Books Alive.

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