The kombucha craze is sweeping the nation right now, but Wabi O were doing it long before Instagram posts became a social litmus test. The team spoke to Jo Bind about the growing demand for this ancient fermented wonder.

What is your company background, how did you start the business?

“WabiO (the street name for Wabi Originals Ltd) resulted from a chance encounter of an eager fermentation experimentalist and a tea expert in 2010. Warren Moliken had been running a farmers market stall for a number of years with his wife, offering fermented and nutrient-dense foods, while I have been working with tea farmers around the world and importing their tea for his tea house since 2005. After two years of trial and error, Warren and I founded WabiO to modernise a traditional fermented tea drink – kombucha.”

“The goal was to transform a humble, often home-brewed, health tonic into a modern, sophisticated beverage which would be equally at home in yoga studios and trendy wine bars.”

What are the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?

“Kombucha is a traditional fermented drink, made from tea, which is low in sugar, high in probiotics and contains numerous organic acids, enzymes and vitamins. Currently, WabiO produces a range of six different types of kombucha: The Headless, Uncle Stoutnikov, Fu Cha, Cliffhanger, Highliner and The Wizard.”

“WabiO’s innovation in the field of commercial kombucha came through a radical reduction to just the bare minimum of ingredients: water, tea, sugar and the kombucha culture. Working akin to wine makers – using various grape varieties and expressions of terroir – WabiOn's  flavours are created by selecting the right tea for a specific flavour profile – single origin teas from tea farms the brewers have visited and worked with for over a decade.”

Has there been any recent company news?

“After winning an innovation award at the Taste Farmers Market Awards in 2013, WabiO’s  “The Headless” kombucha won another award at last year’s Cuisine Magazine Artisan Awards – being the first kombucha ever awarded by the magazine.”

What are the plans for the business moving forward, is there any expansion on the horizon?

“Currently, the majority of WabiO’s kombucha is sold in bottles, but trials with kegs of kombucha on tap are run in a few selected restaurants and cafes. There are also talks with a number of bars to have a dedicated kombucha tap – a trend that is growing strongly in the US. WabiO’s emphasis on sophistication results in a drink with a mature flavour that makes it a viable alternative to alcohol on a night out – therefore lending itself perfectly to be poured on tap in bars and restaurants. Our focus is currently on the local market, mainly due to the limited production capacity that our brewing arrangements allow.  But the fit out of our own dedicated brewery, scheduled to commence operation later this year, will allow WabiO to keep up with the growing demand from all over New Zealand.”

Where are your products currently available to buy, and are you looking at or wanting to expand your availability?

“At the moment, the majority of our stockists are in the South Island (WabiO is being brewed in Christchurch). A small number of specialty retailers make WabiO available on the North Island. In the coming 6 months, we will expand our stockist list to more shops; but being a sophisticated drink, WabiO is a good addition to any drinks list in a fine dining/drinking environment. We see this as our biggest growth market since low-sugar, adult-oriented soft drinks are still a rarity in a world where customers are ever more concerned about excessive sugar consumption and healthy options.”