Growing pains: Buchi expands amid financial burden

Under pressure: Buchi increases production while trying to pay off an $80,000 bottling machine.

Buchi is apparently both busy and broke.

With 180 accounts across several states and shelf space in Earth Fare and Whole Foods' Southern stores, Buchi could become the East Coast's largest commercial kombucha brewery. But after purchasing an $80,000 bottling machine to keep up with demand for its fermented tea beverage, the company's finances are troubled.

“It is dire in some ways because of the cash-flow situation,” says Mike Newman, outreach specialist. “If we can bridge the next couple of months while we're in this transition period of bringing on new distributors, then Buchi, we're going to have a real powerhouse of a brand coming out of Asheville.”

He says he's been confronted with rumors of the brewery's closing. “We never meant to message that [we're closing],” he says. “Our production capacity is up, so it's like a thousand positive indicators, and the only thing that's holding us back from absolutely taking off and being a commercial success across the East Coast is our current cash flow.”

Buchi has launched a crowd funding campaign on indiegogo.com. The company hopes to raise $10,000 to put toward the bottler and wages for hourly employees. In the first two weeks of the fundraiser, fans of the fermented drink have donated about $2,000.

But even as the company struggles with its funds, the group of entrepreneurs has embarked on an unconventional marketing campaign that they call “The Sleep on Your Floor Kombucha Tour.” Newman and company co-founder Sarah Schomber present Buchi at grocery stores throughout the region, taking questions, providing samples and giving demonstrations. Because they don't have a budget for hotels, the entrepreneurs rely on the generosity of fans and hosts from the website couchsurfing.org.

“So far, we've had no problem finding sometimes couches, sometimes floors, sometimes beds to sleep in,” Newman says. “We really run the gambit from what I would consider your pretty typical college dorm situation to some beautiful houses that people have been kind enough to put us up in.”

Newman says the low-budget, mobile marketing campaign is a new take on traditional sales methods. “It's been a kind of, hit the ground and connect with people on a grassroots level,” he says. “It's not a new strategy, I would say, pounding the pavement, but I would say it's a new application in an emergent market.”

But Buchi is expanding more than its market; the company is adding to its product line along with developing a new flavor, Buchi Earth. “The flavor profile we're looking at right now — and again, we're still taste testing, so everything is subject to change — but what we're looking at is doing a root beer flavor. It's going to be rich and grounded, deep and root-y, kind of like the porter of kombucha.”

The company has found that releasing new flavors is an effective business strategy. Buchi Water was released two months ago, and in that time, it has become its best-selling product, outpacing sales of Buchi Fire, a ginger and cayenne concoction.

Newman says the brewers designed Water, a mixture of fermented tea, coconut water, blueberry, watermelon, schizandra berry and elderberry, to be the company's most accessible kombucha. “We see kombucha, certainly it is a health food beverage, but we see it in a much broader cultural context,” he says. “People are really not interested in soda anymore. They're looking for much healthier, more sustainable options for themselves. We've branded ourselves as a social beverage.”

To learn more about Buchi, visit drinkbuchi.com.

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