A gut feeling: Malaysia’s WonderBrew aims to double kombucha sales this year amid pandemic
The firm surpassed last year’s sales of RM200,000 (US$48,000) in June.
WonderBrew started operations in November 2018, producing local flavours of the fermented functional beverage to cater to Malaysia’s population.
The firm has ambitious plans to expand its reach to the masses, marketing as a health drink as well as an alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages.
Joseph Poh, founder of WonderBrew told FoodNavigator-Asia: “Kombucha is still in its infancy phase in Malaysia, but we see encouraging response from consumers who drink for the health benefits, but at the same time also genuinely enjoy the drink.”
Kombucha is a fermented beverage typically made from tea, sugar and SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast). Some companies add fruits and herbs for flavour. WonderBrew adds cold pressed juices to its kombucha.
As a fermented beverage, it contains probiotics as well as antioxidants from the tea. Poh said he had gut problems such as indigestion and discomfort which kombucha helped relieved.
In addition, kombucha is a good alternative to soda that are typically high in calories and sugar.
In Malaysia, the most obese country in South East Asia, the government is also encouraging its citizens to adopt a healthier lifestyle by refraining consumption of sugary drinks. In September last year, the government introduced a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
As WonderBrew’s kombucha is low in sugar, it was not imposed with the tax.
To encourage greater consumption of kombucha in the country, WonderBrew is positioning it as a beverage for the masses, with the brand focusing on cost, taste, and accessibility.
“We want to target this drink to the masses, teenagers, kids, mums, parents, working adults, health enthusiasts.”
According to Poh, the firm wants to differentiate itself from the imported kombucha brands mostly catering to the Western lighter taste buds with pomegranate or blood orange flavours.
He described Malaysians as having heavier taste buds and that those flavours would not suit the local taste.
Hence, the firm created seven localised flavours such as passionfruit spearmint, butterfly pea lemongrass, and most recently Tambun pomelo which was launched in August.
Poh added that the company is also working on more than 20 formulations. The company sources its fruits and herbs locally. Some ingredients such as its tea are sourced overseas.
Cost and accessibility
Another pain point to address was the high cost of kombucha beverages in Malaysia.
According to Poh, imported kombucha products typically cost around RM15 (US$3.65) and mostly sold in upscale grocery stores targeting the premium customers.
WonderBrew’s kombucha retail for around RM12.90 (US$3.10) in more than 100 locations nationwide, which includes grocery stores, cafes, restaurants, co-working places, health stores and hair salons. Convenience stores are in the pipeline for the company.
In addition to physical presence, the firm decided to expand its e-commerce presence earlier in March which proved timely when the unexpected pandemic hit Malaysia, causing the country to implement its Movement Control Order (MCO) as a preventive measure, effectively closing all non-essential business.
For WonderBrew, that was almost half of its sales channels shut down.
The brand is now working with key opinion leaders, and its beverages are now sold through its website, e-commerce platforms such as Go Shop, Shopee, and upcoming with Grab.
It is also the first kombucha company in Malaysia to receive halal certification. The firm has plans to expand into Singapore in the next three years.
WonderBrew was rebranded from Scoby Farm which was founded in 2016. With the rebranding, the focus was on being a sustainable business. The firm is using recycled glass bottles as well as composting food waste collected during its kombucha production.