Founded in 2014, M.D.-based Wild Kombucha remains one of the few kombucha brewers in the Baltimore area, and it hasn’t been letting its early jump on the market go to waste.
The brand, started by step-brothers Adam Bufano and Sergio Malarin and their childhood friend Sid Sharma, has steadily built its retail presence to over 700 stores in five states, expanding a little over 100 percent year-over-year, according to Sharma. In relocating from its current 3,400 sq. ft. production facility in suburban Timonium to a new, 13,652 sq. ft. space in northwest Baltimore early next year, Wild Kombucha aims to further stake its claim on the Mid Atlantic kombucha market.
“If you live in a certain area, we want you to run into Wild Kombucha at least 3 to 4 times every day, or every week,” Sharma told Beverage Industry during a call last week. “That’s how you build visibility; people feel like they are seeing it everywhere, curiosity builds, and you have to try it.”
In Baltimore, Wild Kombucha has enjoyed plenty of space to grow; along with Hex Ferments, which also manufactures a range of other fermented foods, is one of only two local kombucha brands. The company began with Sharma, Bufano and Malarin brewing and bottling on nights and weekends out of a local juice shop near Johns Hopkins University campus, where they found a receptive audience in local students and in coffee shops. Within six months, the brand had secured placement at Whole Foods and the trio were working full time on scaling Mobtown Fermentation, Wild Kombucha’s parent company.
In 2016, Wild moved to Timonium, bumping up its production capacity to 10,000 bottles and 30 kegs per week. Upon moving to its new facility in Feb. 2019, output is expected to reach more than 40 times current levels; when operating at full capacity in approximately five years, Sharma said it would be able to produce upwards of $40 million in revenue for the company. 9,500 sq. ft. of the new facility will be devoted production space featuring larger fermentation tanks and expanded cold storage. The facility will also feature a retail component where visitors can take a brewery tour or drop in the “kombucha lounge” for a kombucha flight tasting.
While noting the brand is excited to be returning to the city, Sharma indicated that the move has additional geographic importance.
“We’ve outgrown our capacity here, but the bigger piece is that we are in 700 stores and they are all within 100 miles of our brewery,” he said.
Besides Whole Foods, Wild Kombucha’s seven varieties — Blueberry Yerba Mate, Tart Cherry Ginger, Watermelon Hops, Mango Peach, Elderberry, Ginger Grapefruit, and Apple Spice — are available at select MOM’s Organic Market and Harris Teeter locations in the Mid Atlantic. The company also began offering local home delivery service through a partnership with produce provider South Mountain Creamery in August.
To service those accounts, Wild has partnered with Coastal Sunbelt Produce for distribution in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area. It also recently signed a deal with Lancaster Farm Fresh to enter the Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City markets. In foodservice, Wild Kombucha is sold at all La Colombe cafe locations in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., with expansion into all New York City cafes potentially on the horizon. Sharma said the brand plans to support growth by hiring three sales team members over the next year.
“The difference now is that the sales team focuses more on independent locations, and we are able to take meetings with the larger chains,” Sharma said. “We can focus on bringing in 10 to 50 new stores instead of one at a time.”
2019 will also hold more changes then just a move. The company is currently raising its first round of private equity, and is preparing to launch two new beverage products next year — one which Sharma said was an extension of the Wild Kombucha brand that will be offered in cans but is not a kombucha.
By Spring, the brand will also have implemented a new brewing process which Sharma said will both increase the product’s shelf life and ensure the liquid’s alcohol content by volume (ACV) does not rise above the legal limit of 0.5 percent after secondary fermentation.
“For us it has been interesting because despite our shorter shelf life, it hasn’t been an issue since we don’t have a large geographic footprint,” he said. “In the tests we’ve undergone, it would take us to 4 to 5 months, so we wouldn’t have to worry.”