Kombucha: the chef and the scientist who went with their gut instinct

Laura Healy and Andrew Kelly now have their fermented drink in SuperValu

Laura Healy and Andrew Kelly, whose homemade kombucha and kefir drinks led to their light-bulb moment

Laura Healy and Andrew Kelly, whose homemade kombucha and kefir drinks led to their light-bulb moment

 

Ideas for new businesses come about in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways and for Laura Healy and Andrew Kelly, co-founders of drinks company Gut Instinct, it was all down to the snow. Marooned in their apartment during the big freeze of 2018, they looked at their rows of Kilner jars containing cultures for homemade kombucha and kefir drinks and had their light-bulb moment. They started selling small batches of their brew at the Skerries Mills Farmer’s Market and the volume of repeat business convinced them that their product had legs.

A year on and the couple have a new baby to go with their new business and they are also juggling busy “day” jobs. Healy is CSO (chief scientific officer) of sustainable animal feed startup Hexafly, while Kelly is a restaurant chef. The money they had been saving towards getting a mortgage has gone into the business and Healy admits the pace of life is “just a little bit crazy”. However, the couple have no regrets. “We just decided to go for it and I think the hardest part was believing in our product even though the feedback was consistently excellent and people got upset if we didn’t turn up at the market and they couldn’t get their weekly supply,” Healy says.

The market for the fermented drink – kombucha – has become a lot more crowded in recent years but Healy says Gut Instinct stands out because its flavour profile is completely different to anything else on the shelves. The product is not pasteurised so its beneficial live mother cultures are preserved and the product is hand-brewed, double fermented and infused with tea from fellow Irish company Wall and Keogh, Cloud Picker Coffee and fresh rhubarb and rose petals. There are three flavours on offer with more to come.  

“Because we don’t pasteurise, the bottle is bursting with live cultures and this creates a gorgeous fizzy and refreshing drink,” says Healy who graduated with a science degree from Trinity College in 2015. Kelly is a Ballymaloe-trained chef who has served his time in Michelin starred restaurants Noma in Copenhagen and Alinea in Chicago and is a champion of the gut health benefits of fermented food and drinks.

Ultimate goal

Gut Instinct was officially launched last September and employs four with plans to have a team of seven in place by early 2020. Having outgrown the capacity of the couple’s kitchen, the brewing is now done in a commercial setting and the ultimate goal is to set up a microbrewery where people can come and learn about and taste the product. The couple have been through the SuperValu food academy programme and started selling in SuperValu outlets in March of this year while their products are also distributed around the country by Irish Independent Health Foods.

As a freshly minted startup Gut Instinct is concentrating on the Irish market for now, but Healy says they will begin expanding the range and looking to other markets once they become established here. Bootstrapped development costs were pinned at about €13,000 between their savings and an innovation voucher from Fingal LEO.  

Healy recognises that Gut Instinct is entering a pretty crowded segment where competition for the “healthy euro” spend is intense, but she believes her previous startup experience will stand to her. “Working at Hexafly for more than two years and being on the team from the beginning has taught me so much about what it takes to start a business and not let the setbacks hold you back,” she says. “The selection of drinks in the healthy section in the supermarket is certainly vast, but it’s important that consumers read the labels and weigh up the real benefits of drinks that may be passing themselves off as healthy when in fact they are really bottles of sugared water.”

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