"Rethink your soft drink" is the message behind SynerChi, a tea-based drink being produced at Ireland's first 'kombrewery' in Gweedore, Co Donegal by brewmaster Laura Murphy.
Kombucha is an ancient Chinese fermented tea believed to aid digestion and help alkalise the digestive system. Condron’s version is made with her own blend of teas, functional herbs and live culture and has been almost three years in development.
“While working in America, I discovered live Kombucha and became really passionate about it,” she says. “If you google Kombucha you’ll be bombarded with countless tales of it being the ultimate panacea for all sorts of ailments, but I certainly experienced a profoundly positive impact on my health from drinking it. When I came home and could no longer get it, I really missed it.”
Murphy began brewing Kombucha in her kitchen and tried it out on family and friends. They asked for more and in 2012 she launched Dublin Kombucha, a small-scale operation using recyclable bottles and delivery by bike.
“From a ‘green’ perspective we were doing great. From a financial point of view it was clear that we would never make money with such small volumes and our production set up was unscalable. However what it gave us was good proof of concept,” she says.
Having made up her mind it was the process not the product that needed tweaking, Murphy began planning to scale up. She went back to the US to train in Kombucha fermentation and craft brewing skills with some of the leading names in the business there, and returned to Ireland determined to raise the money to build the necessary production facility.
Towards the end of 2013 Murphy's business "angel" arrived in the person of Ray Coyle of Largo Foods who agreed to back the venture in a personal capacity. Condron also sank personal resources in the venture and received some start-up assistance from Údarás na Gaeltachta. She estimates the investment to date at about €350,000.
SynerChi currently employs four people and this will rise to six shortly. The product has just gone on sale here in 330ml bottles selling at about €2.69. Initial outlets will be health food stores, independent shops, restaurants and cafes. The product will be sold through a distributor and Condron is already looking to the UK as the route to volume sales before tackling Europe.
Kombucha is a naturally sparkling drink and Murphy would like to wean consumers off heavily sugared fizzy drinks on to her healthier option.
“There’s a clear gap for a beverage that offers the refreshment of a carbonated soft drink without the over sweet, artificial or synthetic experience,” she says. “SynerChi not only satisfies the need for tasty refreshment, but also has natural functional benefits thanks to its live culture, antioxidants and raw enzymes.”
Murphy was originally an actress and singer who worked at the business end of the music industry before setting up SynerChi. “From a commercial viewpoint, we are carving out a new drinks category and are well placed to do for Kombucha what Innocent and Vita Coco have done for chilled smoothies and coconut waters,” she says.
“The big Kombucha brands in the US have up to 30 varieties in their ranges so we have a long way to go with different combinations of teas and herbs. The product is certified organic, raw and vegan and is naturally gluten, dairy and soy free. It is also 100 per cent natural with no artificial colours, additives or preservatives and is just 59 kcals per 330ml bottle so we think it will have wide appeal for health conscious consumers.”
– OLIVE KEOGH