Kombucha: From hipster beginnings to mainstream success in glass

November 10, 2019

Kombucha is a fermented cold tea beverage, which has developed a cult following of health enthusiasts across the world and dominates the Ready-to-Drink Tea market in the USA. Now, drinks manufacturers are looking at how its functional benefits can enhance sales across Europe. Kombucha is an ancient drink, first brewed in China, Korea, Japan and Russia. It acts as a source of probiotics because it contains live bacterial cultures, which continue to develop after brewing. 

The US boasts the largest carbonated RTD tea market in the world; in 2017, sales were $405 million, nearly entirely from kombucha. GT leads the market, gaining $275 million annually in sales. O-I makes the glass packaging for the brand and the success of GT shows how glass is the perfect material for packaging kombucha. 

The rapid growth of kombucha indicates exciting opportunities for its expansion into European markets. With a growing wellness scene in Europe, kombucha has the potential to be just as popular outside of the US.

Millennials across Europe are increasingly attuned to the health benefits of consuming fermented foods and beverages. Kombucha, along with sauerkraut and kimchi, appeals to this health-conscious market base. While the only substantiated health claim is its probiotic quality, kombucha has been attributed by fans to improving digestive issues, cardiovascular health and other inflammatory conditions. The wellness angle of kombucha aligns itself with glass packaging.  Glass does not interact with its contents and carries no aftertaste from packaging. For the true qualities of kombucha to be experienced, it is beneficial for it to be packaged in glass.

As young people are increasingly rejecting alcoholic beverages, kombucha acts as an attractive substitute. For instance, in the UK one third of young people are teetotal. Such individuals expect to be able to purchase attractive looking non-alcoholic drinks in bars and restaurants. Kombucha packaged in glass creates the high-quality appearance that these consumers desire.

Kombucha also represents a clean label product. The highest number of clean label claims is the US with 3 per kombucha product, followed by Germany and France with 1.9 and 1.8 respectively. Kombucha’s claim to be “no GMOs”, “no preservatives” and “organic” further appeals to health fanatics. Glass is the perfect packaging for the unadulterated, natural quality of kombucha. The purity of glass packaging compliments kombucha’s no-additive tagline. A clean product fits best in clean packaging. 

As the kombucha market experiences rapid growth, there is significant opportunity for manufacturers to expand its production and sales in Europe. The European Kombucha market is currently worth around $244 million but it is estimated to reach $730 million by 2024. The key countries for kombucha sales in Europe are the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. However, kombucha has long-standing roots in Eastern Europe, which combined with O-I’s unsurpassed European footprint for glass production, makes expansion among health-conscious consumers across the entire continent a distinct opportunity.