Culture Club Revisited

OK let’s get this out of the way upfront – I have set up a ‘Fermentation Station’ in the office. I brew Kombucha and Kefir in the office pretty successfully, with the odd mishap. Whilst most of the team are somewhere between supportive and agnostic towards this, but it has to be said that it’s not for everyone and someone in particular in the office (mentioning no names!) misses no opportunity to critique the liquids bubbling away!

The Guardian asked a week or two back ‘Is Kombucha good for you?’, and articles such as ‘Six of the best Kombuchas, tasted and ranked’ are becoming more common as it looks like the new 2019 trend is adding kombucha to everything. So perhaps the defining food trends for 2019 will end up being: cannabis oil, crumpets, kombucha, and kefir. Of course Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV to the aficionados) and Sourdough need little introduction.


It’s tempting to think that these on-trend fermented wonder-foods all had hipster origins, but in fact, Kefir, Kombucha, Sourdough, and Apple Cider Vinegar are traditional techniques honed over the ages. What the hipsters did was help the mainstream get on board. It also helps that there is a growing demand for wider choice in non-alcoholic drinks market, especially among the health-conscious millennial generation.

This tipping point has coincided with the rapid rise of fermented foods in the general market and it’s becoming increasingly common to see British supermarkets now regularly stocking sauerkraut and the Korean side dish kimchi. Kefir is now surprisingly commonplace found in places that vary from contemporary fast-food retailer all the way to Leon, M&S to Tesco. The Kombucha category is a gold rush at the moment with even Jonny Wilkinson having a try. Ahem.

The Grocer cites Kantar data that supports the theory that older shoppers are behind a boom in kefir sales, with more than 40% of the nation’s kefir was consume by over 65s in 2018, taking the sales of fermented dairy products to £4.2m. Yet when you look at all the marketing, in terms of messaging and media placement, the majority of marketing is clearly geared towards millennials. With the 16-44 age range accounting for just 27.9% of consumption, it looks like a missed opportunity.

Kefir sales are driven by bone and gut health claims, mixed in with a slightly misty-eyed reverence to unique ‘cultures’ in the grains. Every brand seems to claim that their proprietary mix of grains is what bestows the maximum health benefits. Yet, where 12, 13 or 14 different cultures (grains) are used in products, attributing health causation to one strain or the other will be a lifetimes scientific study one.

But the broad argument is that most yogurts have two or three beneficial bacterial, Kefir has four or five times as many and more is better. There are now spoonable Kefirs (effective yogurt/kefir crossover products) and quarks.

Most would agree Kefir has health benefits to bone density and the gut, however quantifying these is elusive – I certainly worry about overclaiming. In the rush to sustain booming growth rates in the category, the truth about the health benefits of products can often be an early causality. 

For now, almost subsets of fermentable products are growing quickly – kefir, kombucha, kimchi, ACV, sourdough – and there looks to be few clouds on the horizon. There will be the inevitable shakedown of brands as retailers look to back a smaller assortment of brands who have ‘won’ in the market already and thus offer proven sales.

But in these markets, there will always be room for the underdog with a clear point of difference, and often this may come to form a smaller scale, almost ‘craft’ type proposition that offers authenticity, functional benefits, and a compelling back story.

With this being the case, ongoing retail interest seems guaranteed and the slow march of these products into foodservice channels will also continue. I don’t think it will be too long before Kombucha is an established soft drink in the pubs and clubs channel and perhaps we’ll see it ‘on draught’ in your local before too long. I’ll drink to that. 

Have you got a fermented food or drink product which you want get onto the market? Contact us by calling 02039 319066 or email

We recognised this trend back in 2016. Click here to read what we had to say back then – Culture Club – The Latest Trends.

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