Non-alcoholic beverages are becoming trendy among Canadians. The average person now prefers the infusion of exotic ingredients in their drinks; both for health and innovation purposes. Because of this, most restaurants and breweries are experimenting with new, trendy, healthy, and functional non-alcoholic drinks. And one of the most trendy drinks nowadays is Kombucha.
Kelsey Hendricks, the founder of Tofino Kombucha, started brewing as an experiment, which then turned into a hobby, and is now her passion and business. She is fascinated by the fermentation process, and how a few simple ingredients can turn into something healthy and delicious. Now she wants to share her love for Kombucha and inspire others to start preparing self-sustaining and life-sustaining fermented foods.
We had a chance to have a quick chat with Kelsey and learn more about how she started the business, what challenges she faced, and how Lending Loop helped her business growth.
Let’s start with the business. What is the origin story?
I started brewing kombucha at home, just for fun. After a while, I enjoyed making it so much that it slowly grew into a hobby. So I did some research and realized that there is no local kombucha here. My extensive research snowballed. It took me 8 months to construct the idea and turn it into a business. There was lots of work from the beginning. We started with 40 gallons and now are brewing more than 400 gallons, which is a significant jump. We also currently have 90 accounts, plus a distributor.
There was also a lot of organization and invoicing involved, which we had to do ahead of time. So as the business scaled up, everything was already set in place for quick and smooth operation.
Organic certification was another thing that took a lot of work. But I believe that it adds a lot of value to the product. One thing about the Canadian consumer industry that most consumers don’t know about is that anything organic has to be certified, but no one is enforcing it.
What challenges did you face in the first year of business?
There is no schooling on kombucha – how to brew it, what ingredients are needed, and so on. It’s all through trial and error. You figure it all out on your own. We used the wrong equipment many times and failed a lot. But also learned a lot, too! It’s all part of the process. Now that I look back, I’m glad that I started small. If I had started with a larger amount, I would’ve been making more mistakes on a much higher cost.
I did hours and hours of research and found out that the equipment used is the same as the beer industry. And once I became a kombucha brewer, I joined the National Kombucha Association and received a lot more information from them, which was a valuable source.
How did you come across Lending Loop? What did the loan mean to you?
At that time, we weren’t eligible for a loan with the Credit Union because the business had not been operating long enough, so we had to go look for another source. And that’s when I did some Google search and Lending Loop came up. The website was easy to read. It looked like a professional company. So I applied and received a quick response. The communication was easy and the process flowed smoothly.
The capital was used to refinance the equipment I had previously purchased. Business sales were also significantly increased and we needed a larger fridge. So we basically went from having a mini, two-door pop fridge, to a large walk-in cooler – all thanks to the capital!
There were also the larger brewing barrels that we needed. We were brewing in 5-gallon batches but now we’re up to 45-gallon. With the increased size in the amount we brew now, we are able to make it more efficiently, make more in a shorter amount of time, and keep up with the demand.
How are things going for you now? And what’s next?
We recently got a new distributor, which is the quality foods warehouse here on Vancouver Island. They have 13 locations and distribute to 100 other vendors. This gives me 100 more accounts on top of my current 90. So now we’re at a point that we need more space. The challenge is, being a small company in a small remote town, finding larger commercial space suitable to build a brewery to expand even further.