Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Probiotic beverages
From furniture maker to Chinese medical practitioner, Stuart has an eclectic resume. He started making water kefir -- an ancient probiotic-rich super beverage -- at home while working as an acupuncturist.
"Susan had turned me on to a diet that was heavy on fermented foods," he recalls. "That led me to water kefir as a way to get more fermented foods into my diet. I was very inspired by the fact that if you do it properly, it tastes like you're drinking soda when it's done. As somebody who stopped drinking soda because it's not good for you, I was really excited to find this healthy alternative."
Their kids loved the beverage as well, and after some time, Susan was able to convince Stuart to turn his new hobby into an actual business. "Stuart has an engineering type of mind, and I knew he could handle the production part of it," she explains. "I knew I could handle the marketing part. Together, I thought we would be a good team."
The couple enlisted their cohousing community neighbor and third co-founder, Jim Beckmeyer, to handle the financial side of the business. "Jim brings things to the table that the two of us aren't very good at," Stuart adds. "That's organizing the books, doing the payments, and keeping track of the finances. We have a really good synergy with the three of us."
It's safe to say their venture has been successful. In the five years since the company's founding, Doctor D's has increased facility size twice, moving from a 900-square-foot space to a 3,500-square-foot space, and now to their newest home: a 6,300-square-foot building large enough to handle the doubling or tripling of production they're planning this year.
"Right now, we're doing about 12,000 units a week," Stuart says. "But by the end of the year, we'll be doing at least 24,000 units a week. Our projected annual sales this year should be around $2.5 million."
Susan says the consumers purchasing the company's sparkling probiotic drinks are primarily looking for a "beverage with added benefits." Many are focused on the health benefits of the microorganisms, enzymes, acids, B vitamins, and minerals each variety of Doctor D's contains. Others "discover us and are amazed at how it tastes," she adds. "They drink Doctor D's simply because they like it. Then they notice their stomach feels better, too."
Like kombucha, which Stuart says is the leader in the probiotic beverage category because it has been in the market the longest, water kefir is a live fermented product. However, that's where the similarity ends.
"Kombucha uses a different combination of microorganisms, primarily acid-forming bacteria. That gives it the vinegar flavor," he explains. "Kefir has more lactobacillus, anywhere from 15 to 25 different strains depending on the season. That gives it an easier flavor." Because kefir is made with water, rather than tea, Doctor D's is also caffeine-free.
Susan says the Tart Cherry variety is the best seller, followed by Concord Grape and Ginger Lemon. She predicts the latest addition to the lineup, Mandarin Orange, will become a bestseller as well. "Lime Mint will probably be our next flavor," Stuart adds. "That's a very popular profile right now." He also notes that regardless of the variety, every Doctor D's sparkling probiotic is made with carefully selected 100 percent certified organic and U.S.-grown fruit juice.
Challenges: Growing their customer education program and expanding market awareness are the couple's biggest challenges at present. "Unfortunately, a lot of people dabbled in fermented drinks in the past and found them to be unpalatable," Stuart says. "There are also still a lot of people out there who don't even know what a fermented drink is."
Opportunities: Doctor D's will be expanding distribution dramatically this year, capitalizing on the relationships they've built in both health food and conventional grocery chains. "We've had a lot of success with King Soopers in particular," Stuart explains. "While we're in just about every chain in the Colorado area and most small independents as well, the relationship we've formed with King Soopers has opened the doors with Kroger nationally."
"We're also supposed to hear back from Sprouts about national distribution," he continues. "We're in Whole Foods and should soon be in all the Natural Grocers stores. We're talking to Publix for the Southeast and we're working on Wegmans for the Northeast. The conventional chain is proving to be a really good avenue for our beverage as a great crossover drink."
Needs: To keep up with increasing demand, Stuart says they'll need to grow their production staff this year as well as expand their bottling line. "And we just need more shelves to put our product on," he adds. "But those are in the works, so that's all good."