For co-founder Shawn Slade, Booch Organic Kombucha is a nod to yesteryear when health-promoting products were available at the corner store. Even its branding – with its stubby brown bottle and stylized cursive lettering – evokes the idea of grandpa’s old cough medicine.
Think of it as an elixir. Or a tonic.
But for Booch co-founder Shannon Slade, BHSc’10, the product has arguably been a form of medicine. Diagnosed with celiac disease while a student at Western, she was looking for something besides a gluten-free diet to minimize her symptoms of sharp pains, bloating and discomfort. She wanted to heal her digestive system. Making kombucha – a fermented tea – proved, for her, a step in the right direction.
And so, Booch was born.
Booch Organic Kombucha – which started as a home-brew project for the Slades four years ago – quickly evolved into a successful local business for the couple. Today, they run a brewery and retail store in London’s Old East Village and distribute to dozens of health-promoting retail locations across southwestern Ontario. Propel Entrepreneurship, Western’s business incubator, selected Booch among its 2016 cohort.
“Kombucha is a probiotic-rich, fermented tea and originated in China 2,000 years ago. It was part of a traditional diet, and was termed back then, ‘the elixir of life,’” Shannon Slade said.
“You want to drink it because the process of fermentation breaks down sugar and caffeine, and by ingesting something that’s been broken down, by ingesting probiotics, you can repopulate your gut with bacteria that help break down food. It helps digestion, boosts your immune system and gives you energy,” she continued.
After the couple’s friends started asking to buy the kombucha they were making for themselves at home, the couple decided “to make a go at this,” noted Slade, a Health Promotion PhD candidate at Western, who previously worked as a personal trainer and a holistic life coach. They financed the business from their own pockets, renting a small space on Dundas Street. Incorporated as a business just last year, they continue to grow and expect to move from their current location – from 2,200 sq. ft. to a new facility roughly 10,000 sq. ft. – in the coming months.
“We are growing and flying off the shelves. We’re strategic – and we have a following,” Slade said.
He credits a dedication to quality ingredients, knowledge of their product and knowledge of the health-food industry, as well as solid partnerships and good local connections for Booch’s rapid success. A three-part fermentation process separates Booch from other kombucha products on the market, as does a wide variety of flavors, including seasonal choices, made with fresh, organic, locally sourced fruits and juices, he added.
“Since we are a small-batch craft producer, we make sure we are partnering with retailers who share our values – health promotion, local organic food security and environmentally sustainable business practices. That was the start and we’ve been doing that across the 519 area – from Guelph, down to Windsor – farmers’ markets, grassroots local health-food stores, business owners, chiropractors, gyms,” Slade explained.
Propel came in at the right time for Booch, helping the company spread across Toronto-area markets, and helping them grow from distributing to some 60 retailers to about 120. The partnership likewise allows the Slades to pick up the phone and connect with Western alumni and business owners.
“It’s given us the confidence and ability to get people on the phone. It’s also great to hang out with other new businesses – local young entrepreneurs, where you get to share successes and failures together, so it is like entrepreneur therapy sessions at times,” he laughed.
There is a waitlist of nearly 100 stores that want to carry Booch, and the upcoming move to a new facility will help facilitate smoother production and distribution as the business continues to grow. Meanwhile, the couple want to stay on top of things in the industry.
“We’re the only kombucha company in Canada that makes kombucha beer right now – out in Port Stanley. Once we set up in the new facility, one whole wing of that will be designated to the kombucha beer. It will be all organic beer, with the healthful medicinal herbs inside – so you can enjoy a beer and have the health benefits,” Slade said.
“We’re looking for unique ways to brew kombucha. We’re going to learn a lot more as we go forward about fermented foods. There’s buzz around it. Companies are popping up everywhere. It’s important for us not to be just another company; we want to do something unique.”