Ed Rothbauer believes in the power of word-of-mouth to market a brand. He also believes in his brand, High Country Kombucha. Ed fell from a roof doing construction work, and received treatment at Denver’s Craig Hospital for paralysis from the ribs down. While there, he tried kombucha tea, a product of fermenting black tea and sugar in a symbiotic yeast and bacteria culture. When he recovered from his paralysis, he believed the tea helped him.
In the 90s, people who discovered kombucha believed in its power to heal and strengthen the immune system. Celebrities Lindsay Lohan and Gwyneth Paltrow have talked about kombucha’s effects, despite the lack of proof from government or independent research. Natural Products Industry research and consulting firm SPINS reported a 27 percent growth in kombucha sales in the past year. Industry publication BevNet predicted sales of $500 million by 2015.
Ed and business partner Steve Dickman started brewing High Country Kombucha in Ed’s home near Vail, Colorado. Locals bought their homemade brew. They realized there was a market, and they started a company. Colorado-based health food store Vitamin Cottage carried their brand, and Whole Foods signed a deal. Then a problem hit their beverage business. The fermentation in the Kombucha bottles resulted in 2.5 percent alcohol.
The controversy made the drink more popular and increased demand. High Country addressed the alcohol problem and shortened shelf life to five months to prevent further fermentation. High Country Kombucha expects to earn $5 million in revenue.