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If success comes down to trusting your gut instinct, Cam MacFarlane and his partners have found the perfect business as purveyors of the 2000-year-old health tonic kombucha.
As sales of the fermented probiotic tea boom from Malvern to Malibu, The Bucha of Byron founders are riding the wave that is sweeping through the beverage category, reshaping the soft drink aisles across the US, Europe and Australia.
Cam and his partners Paul Tansley and James Mackinnon are no strangers to the beverage industry, having met while working with Carlton & United Breweries.
“Paul and I both worked at CUB (in marketing) and James was working for the advertising agency that handled CUB and we had all kept in touch since going our separate ways from there,” says Brighton-based father-of-one Cam.
The three had long toyed with the idea of going into business. But, with high-flying corporate jobs and young families, it never seemed like quite the right time.
“Paul and I particularly talked about different ideas because we are both in some ways square pegs in a round hole in the corporate environment,” Cam says.
They flirted with the idea of a herb farm and even considered setting up a coconut farm after seeing the boom in coconut water.
It all remained talk until April 2015, when Paul – then working for Corona – discovered kombucha on tap at a Brooklyn bar while visiting James in New York. On the way home, he stopped off in Hong Kong, where Cam was working for Bacardi, to share news of the find.
“It was very, very interesting to us,” Cam says. “Because of our ex-brewing backgrounds, we had been through that whole change in the face of mainstream beer, with premium beers coming out and international premium beers and craft beers on tap.”
Two years ago, the kombucha market was only just beginning to take off in Australia. Only a couple of small-scale players were selling it through health food stores and niche cafes. Since then, it has followed a similar trajectory to coconut water and is now widely available in supermarkets.
“So much of this stuff is timing. You wait too long and all of a sudden you miss the opportunity,” Cam says.
By mid-2015, the three mates were all back on Australian turf and had committed to getting the kombucha business up and running.
Cam was doing the ground work, supported by James, now director of business development for Melbourne’s Taboo Group, while Paul had taken on a senior role with Byron Bay’s Stone & Wood Brewing Company.
To make a long story short, the Stone & Wood team, which had also been exploring brewing kombucha, decided to back the boys by putting money into The Bucha of Byron start-up.
Now Stone & Wood not only produces and co-packs the product, but two of its board members also sit on The Bucha of Byron board.
From day one the Bucha boys’ goal has been clear, says Cam. “Many people shy away from kombucha because it’s too vinegary, too tart and just too confronting, which was why we wanted to work with a brewer. We wanted something that was really sessionable in brewing terms; something that you think, ‘I could have a couple of those’, which was straight-up great-tasting.
“We have always said we don’t want to be the healthiest, the lowest sugar or biggest kombucha on the market. We want to be the one that tastes great. We see it as something small that people can do each day to be a little bit healthier.”
Kombucha is a fermented drink first recorded in China more than 2000 years ago, when it was known as The Tea of Immortality.
It is made from tea, sugar and a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast known as a scoby; it’s then brewed.
The end result is a naturally carbonated drink that is relatively low in sugar (2.9 grams per 100 millilitres) and low in calories.
It is less than 0.5 per cent alcohol but is rich in good-for-you probiotic bacteria (just like yoghurt). Studies have shown such bacteria can aid gut health and boost immunity.