A startup in Pune, operating out of a five-acre farm, is attempting to disrupt the market for non-alcoholic beverages. Umami Brew, a bootstrapped company by a former financial advisor and filmmaker Cyriac Thomas, serves a kind of fermented tea called kombucha.
The company, launched in August 2019 with an initial investment of Rs 2 lakhs, recorded a monthly turnover of Rs 4 lakh by November 2019. Despite the lockdown of more than five months, Umami Brew has seen a steady rise in subscriptions, with people ordering five bottles a week on a monthly plan. “Within two months, we will be selling the product across India as there is enough demand. We have a production capacity for 30,000-40,000 bottles per month,” says Cyriac, who was based in California.
According to Netscribes, people began to move away from sugary carbonated beverages as the pandemic stretched on. Moreover, the market for non-alcoholic beverages is expected to show a compound annual growth of 16.68 per cent till 2025, on the back of rising health consciousness and switch to juice-based beverages. Umami Brew confirms the trend.
Kombucha, which originated in China and is popular throughout Europe and the US, is an acquired taste for Indians, although the country has a tradition of fermented drinks such as kanji. Umami Brew confronted the challenge by making kombucha a little differently from what one might find overseas. “In the US, kombucha is a little more acidic and low in sugar. For the Indian palate, we have tried to not make it too acidic. You can’t convert someone to a drink that they have never had before. Hence hyper customisation was required. I decided to make kombucha for the Indian palate by using real and local fruits, herbs and spices. What we also did was add one more ingredient to the fruit to bring the umami out in every flavour we offer. So, for example, pineapple kombucha has black salt which gives a well-rounded taste,” says Cyriac.
The offerings range from kokum ginger and apple-cinnamon to other fermented drinks like Kefir, Jun and Beetroot Kvass. “When I first started, I had decided not to hire any staff until the company was in the green. Initially, I used to do everything by myself, from brewing the kombucha, delivering it, to managing social media. Friends pitched in by designing the brand and logo,” says Cyriac, adding that restaurants and health food cafes in the city were the first to see the potential of the drink.
During the lockdown, celebrity chefs and healthcare professionals began to promote fermented food, and Umami Brew experienced a rise in enquiries from people. Diners ordered kombucha with their meals for their evenings out before the lockdown. Today, it is preferred by fitness enthusiasts to sip on post-workout, beer drinkers who are weaning off the habit, people looking for a substitute to dairy products and well-travelled professionals who had enjoyed the drink abroad.
“Popularising kombucha has become a mission for me. If a person is trying to make a better lifestyle choice, I want to give them a beverage that is refreshing, packed with flavour, and is good for gut health,” says Cyriac. He added that the brewery, the first of its kind in India, works on a progressive policy of zero waste, where byproducts are either composted or used to create other products.