kombucha on tap GreenStar Cooperative Market

Is kombucha on tap a fit for your store?

Two retailers weigh in on how—and if—you should tap this trendy tea.

As more retailers begin to offer kombucha on tap, it can be tempting to dive right into the fermented trend du jour. But two retailers who've done it right - Ithaca-based GreenStar Cooperative Market and Kansas-based The Merc Co+op - are paving the way the smart way.

On whether it's a fit…

First thing's first: stores need to assess whether or not their communities are going to be receptive to kombucha on tap. At GreenStar Cooperative Market, marketing manager Joe Romano knew it would be a good idea because the store's local population was "already into fermentation," he says. "Treats like dilly beans, kimchi and krauts are things that our community eats and even makes for themselves."

Outside of anecdotal evidence, though, Romano recommends interested retailers take a look at their balance sheets. "I would let your sales of bottled kombucha be your best indicator," he says. "If your community drinks a lot of kombucha, then perhaps it will work out for you." ... Perhaps?

On how to hook customers...

The Merc Co+op's foodservices purchasing coordinator, Sean Hill, says it takes a certain customer base for retailers to really see success with kombucha on tap - especially when there are already bottled options on the shelf. "You have to have a curious market," he says. "You might sway a regular tea drinker towards kombucha, but you're not likely to turn a daily soda drinker into a kombucha drinker." And even then, kombucha drinkers tend to be loyal to their brands. "It's about flavor. Different kombuchas offer very specific flavors - some very fruity or herbaceous, and others very vinegary," he explains.

That's why Hill recommends taking stock of what's already on the shelf and determining which brands are popular, and then offering a different flavor of that proven brand on tap. "Or, offer a local or unique brand," he says, which can also resonate with kombucha shoppers, but for different reasons. The store offers two flavors on tap and will soon debut a co-op exclusive flavor.

On what it brings to the store…

Kombucha on tap brings an "active and interactive [element] in a grocery sector that can be less so overall," Romano says. "People can take as much as they want, and they do it themselves. We have several flavors available so customers can, and do, mix flavors." It also appeals to a store's eco-friendly values, as tapped options require shoppers to bring their own cup or growler for refills.

At The Merc, Hill reports tapped kombucha sales of about $400 to $600 per month. "It's still a niche product," he says, and competes with the grab-and-go allure of bottled options. "But a benefit of tapped kombucha has been the ease of sharing samples and the ability to have some fun with it, like using it in slushies and floats in the hot summer months."

On how to do it…

The Merc launched its kombucha bar as part of its coffee and juice bar remodel during the spring of last year. GreenStar also leverages its kombucha on tap by placing it close to its coffee and tea bar. Another approach the two have in common? Stellar partnerships.

GreenStar partnered with Aqua Vitea, which provided the tap and cooler as well as the fresh kombucha. Kanbucha is the partner of choice at The Merc and provided "invaluable" advice on equipment and implementation as well as flavors. "Kanbucha is a nice option for beginners," Hill says of the brand. "It's not too complex or vinegary. An easier-to-drink ‘beginner's kombucha' is likely to be easier to grow sales with."

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