Fort Collins, Colorado
Industry: Food & Beverage
Founder Rachael Walker is on the leading edge of the fast-growing craft kombucha market.
"Since the day I started brewing kombucha I was like, 'I'm gonna call it Bitchin' Boocha,'" Walker says of the kombucha brand she founded in 2018. "About a day before I got my LLC, I changed it to Life's a Buch. . . . because Life's a Buch is more family-appropriate."
The original name was incorporated into the slogan: "The most bitchin' boocha in Colorado."
Walker began fermenting kombucha while working at Whole Foods, giving it out to friends, getting feedback,and experimenting and refining. After several more years of working in natural foods merchandising (most recently as the Rocky Mountain regional manager for Basemakers), she launched Life's a Buch. Her past experience remains central to her business ethos.
"I just 100 percent look up to [Basemakers], the way they run their business," says Walker. "They taught me the power of relationships and that is how I have so many amazing connections with all my grocery stores."
Walker says she personally believes in what she's doing because of a personal health history of serious acid reflux and indigestion. "The second I started drinking kombucha consistently it almost completely eliminated my acid reflux and all of my digestive issues," she notes.
Kombucha's purported health benefits are varied, ranging from well-established to probably fictitious. But Walker's story checks out. For instance, Cleveland Clinic's Health Essentials column notes that the specific types of acids and polyphenols in kombucha appear to cleanse the liver, lower blood pressure and improve GI function.
Kombucha is sometimes referred to as "mushroom tea," but if you're in Denver you might think it best to play it safe and simply call it "booch." It's fermented from green or black tea, a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), and sugar. Kombucha tends to have less than half the sugar as soda would, but Walker says her kombucha, which ranges by flavor from five to eight grams per 12-ounce bottle, has less sugar than about four out of five kombucha brands.
Walker says most consumers who dislike kombucha generally have a conception that booch is vinegary and pungent. Life's a Buch is notably neither of those, she says. True to her relationship-based approach to business, she uses green and black tea sourced from local supplier, Happy Lucky's.
Currently, Life's a Buch is brewing around 500 gallons a month and is available in 27 stores from Denver to Wellington. The plan is to get into 25 new stores this year and triple production. To do that, Walker is investing in new equipment (most notably a 264-gallon tank, of which she plans to buy several more), moving into a larger production space and preparing to make some hires.
"We're in two-gallon glass jars right now. We're small craft right now, which really helps keep the flavor profile and authenticity of the kombucha, but it's a lot of work having to wash 80 jars every time we brew."
Where would Walker like her business to be in five years? "I would like to be known for having the most bitchin' boocha," she answers -- and to be a nationwide brand.
Challenges: "I'm trying to focus on being more present with it and enjoying the ride instead of focusing so much on the future," Walker says. "We have a lot going on this year which is very exciting, but also just enjoying what I'm doing day-to-day."
Walker would like to distribute her beverage in twist-off bottles, but finding a local distributor has been challenging. Timing is also critical when moving into distribution or scaling, she says. "I would like to be in distribution by the end of the year, but distribution takes like 40 percent of your sales, so I want to make sure I have steady cash flow coming in before I even consider. Plus, I know the value of being a face in the store, being in my stores every week, stocking my own product."
Opportunities: Walker says there's a lot of untapped demand for alternative adult beverages in Colorado's taprooms. She points to growing availability and popularity for kombucha specifically, as well as discussions she's had with brewers and taproom managers.
Walker also maintains good relationships from her prior career in natural foods, and says she believes that trust will be a valuable asset as she expands.
Life's a Buch is still quite small, but well-known locally and a lively brand in a fast-growing market. With demand growing quickly (the global kombucha market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 23 percent from 2017 to 2023), competing for market share is optional, allowing smaller producers to simply focus on scaling production. Walker anticipates having one full-time employee, a branded delivery van, three to five part-time employees, and a much larger fermentation system by the end of 2020.
Needs: Production space. Life's a Buch has struggled to keep up with demand since July. Their new fermentation tank is too large for her current production space, but after much searching Walker says she's close to signing a lease at a larger space where she can scale. Walker also plans to raise $200,000 to $300,000, which she says she will pursure after a move and expansion.
A good supply of raw materials is an ongoing need. "I get a lot of my frozen, organic fruit from Costco and half the time they don't have what I need. Like they no longer have organic pineapple so now I have to find a new place to get organic pineapple."