Kombucha: The rising star in the drinks industry and the growing obsession with plant-based alternatives

The growing range of products in the functional beverages market shows no signs of slowing down and kombucha has quickly established a stand-out position against other vegan and non-alcoholic alternatives.

According to Statista, global sales of the fermented tea-based beverage topped $1 billion in 2022 (up some $300 million from 2015), proving it is on track to remain a key player in 2023.

With this in mind, we sat down with Emma Thackray, co-founder of the award-winning functional drinks brand, Hip Hop, to discuss the increased popularity plant-based drinks and why Kombucha has emerged as a leading vegan and non-alcoholic option.

How does kombucha stand out in the saturated soft drinks market?

“Kombucha is a unique offering, primarily as a great source of probiotics. It has a growing list of health benefits, including killing harmful bacteria and potentially reducing the risk of heart disease. Plus, as kombucha tends to be free from processed sweeteners like stevia – relying on sugars that naturally occur during the brewing process – it can be great for managing the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

“Differences in the fermentation process can produce a variety of unique flavours, ranging from sweet to sharp depending on the brewers’ choices. Combined with other natural ingredients, kombucha presents itself as a delicious alternative to more traditional, mass marketed beverages.

“Thanks to all the above, it’s also a great non-alcoholic alternative. Unlike other alcohol-free beers and spirits, kombucha’s health benefits and distinctive flavours have positioned it as the ideal alternative for people reducing their alcohol consumption whilst also providing other health benefits.”

The global plant-based beverage market was valued at $24.42 billion in 2021, and is expected to expand by 12.7% by 2030. Why do you think there has been a substantial increase in demand for plant-based beverages?

“The plant-based lifestyle has been on the considerable rise in recent years due to the spread of information, popular culture, and the improved quality of available alternatives. At Hip Pop, we’ve experienced the increased demand first-hand and, in some ways, have been the ones to best benefit as non-vegan drinks begin to stand out more in the market.

“With beverages in particular, we believe the increased demand has come from a general awareness around the negative impact some soft drinks can have on your health. As consumers look elsewhere, they’ll find that many healthy and beneficial soft drinks are also fantastic plant-based alternatives!”

Why has kombucha excelled as a vegan alternative?

“Kombucha has become a fan-favourite in the vegan community, often due to the transparency of ingredients and the unique brewing process.

“Where many soft drinks have an extensive ingredient list, full of confusing scientific terms for sweeteners and chemical preservatives, kombucha producers pride themselves on minimising the number of unnatural ingredients in their drinks, as well as using no animal by-products in the brewing process.”

Approximately nine million people took part in Dry January this year, up from eight million in 2022. Why do you think the UK’s attitudes are changing towards alcohol, and could there be a change in UK drinking culture?

“Past research tells us that attitudes towards drinking move in response to shifts in social attitudes, marketing, legislation, and even region. For some, Dry January is a feel-good, short-term change to give their bodies a break after the festive period. For others, it’s the beginning of a long-term commitment that results in better habits.

“Sobriety allows us more energy to get through the day, without the worry of an impending hangover after a night of drinking. Anxiety after drinking, or ‘hangxiety’, has also forced a change in habits, with 36% of young adults referencing this as their reason for cutting down their alcohol consumption.

“Post-pandemic, the industry has also seen a general increased awareness and attentiveness around our health, demonstrated by reduced alcohol consumption in certain groups. While drinking culture in the UK is still prevalent, we are seeing a potential shift to a more considered way of drinking.”

What does the kombucha market offer to those who don’t class themselves as teetotal?
“For the wider market, kombucha is still a delicious and healthy soft drink alternative, even if they’re not drinking it for vegan on teetotal purposes. The drink includes a multitude of probiotics, enzymes and antioxidants that can aid digestion and contribute to overall gut health.

“Even if those who choose kombucha aren’t at all health conscious, it’s still a fan favourite for its rich and delicious taste which is markedly different from other non-alcoholic alternatives.”

According to Triton Market Research, the UK’s kombucha market could witness a CAGR of 20.64% between 2019 and 2027. How do you see the rest of the drinks industry capitalising on the rise in the popularity of kombucha?

“We’re anticipating a steep increase in demand for kombucha throughout 2023 – especially off the back of another Dry January. The market for functional but still delicious drinks is expanding and we’re anticipating further competition as other brands introduce kombucha into their product offerings.

“However, I do believe that the market for ‘clean’ kombucha will outstay those who choose to add artificial flavourings and chemical sweeteners, as health-conscious buyers focus on more transparent and beneficial alternatives.”

Why did you choose to focus on kombucha as opposed to other vegan, non-alcoholic soft drinks?

“We wanted to create something that satisfied consumers without sacrificing taste, as well as being able to actively add something beneficial to people’s diets.

“I’d had experience in brewing Kombucha from my time in the US, but when I met my other co-founder, Kenny, his IBS symptoms prompted me to set up a micro-brewery in the garage to try and remedy his issues.

“Encouraged by the results and wider health benefits, we decided to expand the micro-brewery to start selling our own kombucha and Hip Pop was born!”

How has Hip Pop had to change with the increased demand for plant-based drinks?

“In line with the changes in consumer demands, we’ve seen an increase in demand for our kombucha drinks. To manage this, we’ve made logistical adjustments to ensure that we can continue to offer our customers the products in a cost-effective, environmentally friendly way – starting with our packaging.

“Being able to package and deliver our products efficiently and sustainably is critical. We recently decided to transition from glass bottles to cans to make our packaging more efficient, as well as reducing the inner packaging to protect the glass, and reduce shipping costs while still giving our customers the option to recycle.

“With the success of our kombucha range, we wanted to explore growing our drinks offering. Much of the benefit and unique flavour of kombucha comes from the apple cider vinegar present in the brewing process, so the next logical step was experimenting with ACV to eventually create the Living Soda range. Our ability to branch out and experiment with our range demonstrates the demand for these products from the health-focused community and beyond.”

About Lisa Baker, Editor, Wellbeing News 4406 Articles
Editor Lisa Baker is passionate about the benefits of a holistic approach to healing. Lisa is a qualified Vibrational Therapist and has qualifications in Auricular Therapy, Massage, Kinesiology, Crystal Healing, Seichem and is a Reiki Master.