Knook #14: Good Buzz
A couple of years ago, kombucha seemed to come from nowhere. All of a sudden, friends were making it and not long after it was available in supermarkets and cafes. If you don’t already know, kombucha is made when a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or a SCOBY, is put in a sweetened tea brew and the bacteria feeds on the sugars, converting them into organic acids, which gives kombucha its iconic tang. Kombucha producer Good Buzz was at the leading edge of this explosion. I caught up with co-founder Amber Campbell to hear more about Good Buzz and the lessons they’ve learnt in their journey. I asked Amber how they got started on the Good Buzz journey. “I’d been drinking kombucha since I was about 10. I’m from the States where I met my Kiwi husband, Alex, and we moved to New Zealand in 2012 . Alex had given up drinking and while there were plenty of non-alcoholic options, including kombucha, in the States, we couldn’t find kombucha anywhere here. We got a scoby from Alex’s parents, which had originally come from his grandma,” says Amber. “To be honest, we hadn’t intended to start a business but we were brewing kombucha to take to barbecues and events with friends and they started asking for it, and telling us we should be selling it. “It’s a great alternative to alcohol that’s not full of sugar, so we started thinking that others would find it great too.” “We started researching and gathering equipment to brew kombucha. We signed a lease on a building in Petone but when we showed up for a final inspection, the building was flooded and there was no way it would’ve met food safety standards. We then had to hustle to find another building and found one in Wainuiomata a few weeks later, in June 2014. “Alex worked in IT in Wellington. A week after we’d signed the lease on our new building, he called me to say he’d resigned from his job, because if we were going to make it work, we needed to be all in the business.”
“We started brewing and the first batch didn’t quite turn out - the brew wasn’t at the right temperature. So we were kind of questioning if we’d made the right decision! “By September we had everything prepped and had a few batches ready to go. We started talking to customers and building the brand presence - we were doing four farmers markets every weekend. “We were just hustling to make this work. We had a family of five so it did come down to how we feed our kids. It was intense. But in our first six months we had 100 accounts. “We saved everything we had to make it work. We had a small loan from the bank but the rest of it was self funded. “By July 2016, we had 300 accounts - all from hustling. “Then we had been building up a lot of stock over October-November for the summer period but in late November, the Kaikoura Earthquake hit and destroyed much of our stock. “So in early 2017 we had had a few setbacks but we were pushing through. We were sharing a building with two other food and beverage businesses, and all of us were growing quickly - we were basically in the way of their expansion so they politely asked us to find a new space. “We signed a lease in Lower Hutt but then we ran into issues around Code of Compliance for the building which we needed for MPI to relicense the premises in line with food safety standards. “We ended up having 30 days to move, which obviously caused a bit of panic. “There was a contract bottler in Tauranga that had just been licensed to bottle kombucha - it’s pretty hard to get the licence because you’re pumping a living liquid through the pipes which could be an issue. They had a 600 square meter building in the front of their premises, which they offered to us if we used them for our bottling. “We decided then and there to move the business up to Tauranga. We hired a truck, packed up our house and factory and moved everything up there. Within 6 weeks, we were operational in the new premises. “We had one month with no product and people weren’t happy - but at that point we had 350 stockists, and we’re now at 2500 - so it’s absolutely been the right call for the business.” There’s been a fair few twists and turns in their journey, and I asked Amber what lessons they’ve taken away from those challenges. “In a business, there’s always something that isn’t quite working,” laughs Amber. “As an entrepreneur you’re basically a professional problem solver. And you’re looking to build a team of creative problem solvers. “Lots of people point to the success we have now, but we started in the same place as every small business idea. If I’m honest, the majority of starting a business and maintaining it is suffering, but I suppose there is always a little suffering for any worthy cause. “As we’ve grown, some of the important things that we’ve learnt have been staying on top of your finances - making sure you can pay your payroll and bills! “We’ve also found it’s really important to talk to suppliers and build relationships. We really strive to have open and honest relationships with our customers and suppliers - it’s better to be upfront that you need more time to pay as opposed to ignoring emails and calls from people trying to get paid. People are generally really good about it.”
I asked Amber what the hardest thing is about starting an FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) business. “It was surprisingly difficult to find good chilled distribution facilities at the right price. Obviously it’s a mix of keeping the product fresh but the cost down,” says Amber. “It took us three years to get into supermarkets, and then you’ve got to keep product there to make sure you can maintain your shelf space. “There’s also heaps on shelves from Australia. A lot of their producers aren’t selling true kombucha, they’re selling a cheap, diluted product. We brew our kombucha and it goes straight in the bottle, whereas some of the Aussie stuff is about 15% kombucha, which is watered down and has added sweetener. Their production cost is lower so it can be hard to compete on price.” I asked Amber what advice she’d give to other small businesses. “The biggest one for me is you need to plan to spend four times as much money as you think you’ll need,” says Amber. “Stuff just comes up that you don’t expect. We’ve had brews that went mouldy. That’s thousands of litres lost in product, time and ingredients. And then you have to figure out how that happened. If you haven’t built in incidental costs into your budget, then that can be very stressful trying to find extra cash to cover those costs. “I also think it’s really important to take time out to rejuvenate. In any business, you’re going to have days of questioning what you’re doing and if it’s worthwhile. But the business isn’t going to fall apart if you step away for a week, and that time out gives you room to think, gain inspiration and be recharged.” I asked Amber what’s next for Good Buzz. “We’re looking into what it would take to export kombucha,” Amber says. “We’re not really interested in Aussie and the US market has lots on offer so we’re looking at Japan and China. There are so many factors to consider though, so we’ll take it slowly. “In the meantime, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing really well, growing here and providing quality kombucha to Kiwis.”
To learn more about Good Buzz, and to buy online, visit: https://goodbuzz.nz/.