When Amy Driscoll and Chris Hill first met at a party in Williamsburg in July 2016, Driscoll was head of brand engagement at Zico Coconut Water, a division of Coca-Cola. Hill was working at a digital animation studio and making kombucha, a carbonated, fermented tea drink that is popular with health-conscious consumers, in his spare time. He was on the seventh version of a recipe for his brew, which he sold at Little Choc Apothecary, a café in Williamsburg. Believing it had broader commercial viability, he wanted Driscoll, an industry veteran, to try it.

“I expected to hate it,” said Driscoll, who says she had previously been repulsed by kombucha. “But I was blown away.”

A year later Driscoll and Hill launched Bear’s Fruit in the back room of One Girl Cookies, a bakery in Cobble Hill. Soon after demand for the kombucha was as fizzy as the probiotic drink itself.

Today the business is bursting at the seams of its 2,000-square-foot facility in Industry City, which ships to seven distributors and 31 states. Bear’s Fruit generates 4,000 gallons of kombucha per month, its current capacity limit. A recent $450,000 investment, from Simple Food Ventures and two angel investors, will help expand production.

In the early days Bear’s Fruit implemented a niche marketing strategy. As a small operation in a $1 billion sales category, Driscoll knew it would be difficult to target mainstream distributors or large retailers. Instead, she placed the kombucha in local wellness outlets—yoga, Pilates, barre and meditation studios. The atypical approach was immediately effective.

Photo: Crain’s New York Business | Buck Ennis

“It got us attention from investors and our largest customer, Whole Foods, where Bear’s Fruit is the top-selling emerging brand in the Northeast.”

To craft the concoctions, Hill oversees a monthlong process of fermenting yeast with tea in 1,000-gallon tanks and then mixing it with real fruit and herbs. The premium label pairs blueberry and lavender, for example. The company says it is the only brand to use whole, organic, fair-trade ingredients, a labor-intensive effort that is true to its slogan, “hard work bears fruit.”

Although the kombucha market’s sales growth has cooled in the past few years, emerging brands, including Bear’s Fruit, are expected to deliver 40% of the category’s growth near term, said Dan Isleib, managing partner of Apogee Consulting Group.

Looking ahead, Bear’s Fruit this year expects to unveil a second product line—a non-kombucha gut-health beverage. Whole Foods already has committed to sell the forthcoming drink. The company is also planning to do a Series A fundraising round.

Matthew Daly, direct store distribution manager for Harney & Sons, recently placed Bear’s Fruit kombucha in Murray’s Bagels and Hamptons Food Market, among other local stores.

“For Bear’s Fruit to be able to put new products in the refrigerator during the cooler winter months is a fantastic representation of how it’s going to do over time,” Daly said.

*This is an article from Crain’s New York Business published on January 26, 2022; See the original article here.

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