Bucha Buena LLC, a small kombucha maker on Bend’s west side, is doing something not very common in the kumbucha market — putting its product in cans.
The 3-year-old brewery, in an outbuilding in founder Brooke Moore’s backyard on NW Elgin Avenue, is putting three of its five varieties in cans and planning to expand distribution into Eugene in the spring.
“The goal is to get everybody to drink kombucha,” Moore said Oct. 17. “Eugene has a lot of health-conscious people so, naturally, that would be a good market for us. It’s close, and the next step is to get out of Central Oregon and expand a little.”
Bucha Buena obtained a small, Twin Monkeys brand canning machine for about $45,000, Moore said. With it, Moore and brewer Brit Nelson package about 170 gallons of kombucha a week, Nelson said. Kombucha is fermented tea. Bucha Buena adds pureed fruits to flavor its five varieties. In April, the company started canning Blango, flavored with blood oranges and mango, Sweetart, with sweet and tart cherries, and Lemon Strawberry Delight, or LSD.
Canning Bucha Buena products, at its relatively small production level, costs a little more than it would to bottle it, Moore said. Still, she said, they keep their unit price at a competitive level while planning to expand. Bucha Buena in early September signed on with Bigfoot Beverage Distributors, which services Eugene.
“I think Bucha Buena is onto something,” said Betsy Weedman, Bigfoot marketing manager in Bend, on Monday.
For Bucha Buena, she said, “being in a can is really smart” because cans appeal to a younger, health-conscious demographic that loves outdoor activity.
Retail sales of kombucha in all channels is growing, said Gary Hemphill, managing director of research for Beverage Marketing Corp., in New York City. Retailers sold $706 million in kombucha last year, a 38 percent increase over 2015 sales, he said Monday.
“In the U.S., if you look for what’s growing, beverages with health and wellness attributes are growing faster than the overall market,” he said. “Kombucha is certainly positioned as a healthy beverage.”
Kombucha advocates say the beverage is good for a number of things, although many claims are yet to be proven. Some sources recognize its nutrient value.
Weedman said she knows of one other kombucha maker, Kombucha Wonder Drink, of Anaheim, California, that cans its product. Hemphill said he’s not aware of any other kombucha brand available in cans.
“The bulk of the market is in bottles,” he said Monday. “Kombucha tends to be a premium product, and it’s priced on the high side compared to other refreshing beverages. Often, bottles have a more premium image than cans do.”
That image is changing as craft brewers, for example, are putting their products into cans. Cans keep the product fresher longer, said Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the Can Manufacturers Institute, of Washington, D.C., plus it’s environmentally friendlier than glass and it’s recyclable.
“Because of the way the cans are made, they do include a barrier between the product and the aluminum, a lining that ensures high quality and taste,” she said.
Moore said kombucha producers prefer bottles over cans out of a belief that aluminum affects the beverage taste.
“What people don’t know is that every can than any food product is in since the 1960s has been lined with a food-grade plastic,” she said. “So no metal touches the kombucha, ever,” except the 210-gallon stainless steel tank in which Nelson brews Bucha Buena.
The graphic artist behind the Bucha Buena cans, Nick Brown, of Bend, said he designed each can to give a color and tone indicative of the kombucha flavor inside.
“Blango really became dark, like a blood-red orange, with accents of the green mango to make it pop,” he said.
Hemphill said packaging its product in colorful cans may help Bucha Buena stand out on market shelves and attract undecided consumers.
“A lot of these small companies don’t have huge marketing budgets. It’s very crowded — refreshing beverages — and one of the keys to success is packaging,” he said. “It’s one of the last selling tools a company has.”
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