For Milan Jordan, it all started with a question: “Why aren’t other people who look like me drinking this?” The entrepreneur who works in architecture enjoys the taste and health benefits of kombucha, but feels it hasn’t been embraced by minorities, even though the fermented tea drink is the fastest growing wellness beverage in the U.S. Sales are estimated to reach $1.8 billion by 2020.
“It seems like there is a racial divide,” Jordan says. “I’m not sure of the cause. People don’t think it’s for them—like sushi back in the day. Black people didn’t used to eat sushi. Now plenty do. There’s a normalization that needs to happen before it takes off.”
She believes there’s a “luxury love story” about kombucha and other wellness drinks that can be offputting. That’s why she’s launching Cultured Kombucha. “We’re building a tribe to make the wellness scene more diverse and welcoming, as probiotics are commonly overlooked in communities of color,” Jordan says.
Kombucha is a probiotic beverage that contributes to gut health by introducing good bacteria. “Western diets are high sugar and high in salt,” she says. “The balance in our guts is off. Probiotics help provide a balance.” Other products consumed for their probiotic benefits include pickles, yogurt, and miso.
Cultured Kombucha is just getting off the ground. Jordan launched a fundraising campaign through iFundWomen on Sunday. She hopes to raise enough money to secure a permanent workspace in one of D.C.’s commercial kitchens. Then she’ll be able to put her strategy to work.
Jordan plans to sell her kombucha at area farmers markets that accept payment from individuals on food assistance programs such as SNAP and EBT, though she understands that kombucha may not be a high-priority item. “I’m aware one of the barriers to entry is cost,” she says. “I’m aware that people only have so many dollars to spend, especially if they’re on assistance dollars. Healthy drinks won’t feed your family. But if there are programs that match dollars, it could coax people to give it a try.”
There could be an early wrinkle in Jordan’s plan depending on how quickly she can bring her kombucha to market. Earlier this month, the Austin-based company that processes almost half of SNAP payments at farmers markets across the country—The Novo Dia Group—announced it would cease operations and terminate service on July 31. The Washington Post reports that the move will effectively leave about 1,700 markets without a way to process payments from low-income customers.
FRESHFARM Markets’ Molly Scalise confirms that all 15 of its markets in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia accept SNAP benefits that are processed by Novo Dia. On Thursday, Scalise received an e-mail announcing that the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs will be providing Novo Dia with enough funding to operate for 30 more days, giving farmers markets until the start of September to find a new solution.
“We are grateful that we will be able to continue operating with our current equipment for the time being thanks to this funding,” Scalise says. “In the meantime, we are exploring options for replacement equipment to process benefits at market. While a transfer in processing systems may result in potentially significant costs for FRESHFARM, we are committed to ensuring there will be no interruption in services for our SNAP shoppers.”
Jordan first got started brewing kombucha when she realized it how much money she was spending on it. She attended a class to learn the trade and then started brewing her own at home. After receiving positive feedback at kombucha potluck parties, she decided to brew it commercially.
When Cultured Kombucha is introduced at area farmers markets, it will come in six flavors: Tropic Like It’s Hot (pineapple, coconut, vanilla); Can I Kick It? (ginger, basil); PYT (rosemary, lime); I Used to Love H.E.R. (honey, apple); Straight Outta Concord (Concord grape); and The O.G. (original flavor with lime). “They’re all named after hip-hop songs,” Jordan explains. “I skew more ’90s. I picked them based on a memory or a thought they evoked for me.”
Cultured Kombucha, theculturedkombucha.com