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Crossroads Kombucha expands without founder

January 7th, 2019

By Lisa Esquivel Long | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

As Fort Wayne Crossroads Kombucha founder Robert Johnson brings a new beverage to the market, Crossroads COO Tom Brookshire is working with his cousin to expand the original company’s reach.

Johnson, 40, left in May to pursue his local philanthropy-driven Bukal Beverage Co. Brookshire’s cousin, Jim Brookshire, was already with Crossroads as its operations manager. He’s now taken on the role of master brewer as the fermented tea company expands beyond health food shops to convenience stores.

His cousin Tom had him try kombucha for the first time in February.

“I’m a big soda pop drinker,” Jim Brookshire said. “Now I’ve replaced a lot of soda with kombucha.”

Nationwide, kombucha sales are approaching $1 billion.

“We have had a significant jump in production,” Jim Brookshire said.

Since he came on, the company has expanded from 100-200 gallons a month of different flavors to 200-300 a week, he said. The number of flavors has grown from five to 10: Raspberry + Rose Hips, Mango + Strawberry, Pineapple + Coconut, Strawberry + Basil, Cinnamon + Peach, Blackberry + Mint, Blueberry + Sage and Apricot + Ginger with two seasonals, Lavender + Grape and Apple + Spice. The goal is to appeal to a broad spectrum of tastes from people who like sweet, fruity pop to more tartness.

“We believe we have a flavor for everyone,” Brookshire said.

He uses his background in operations plant management to get a consistency in the quality of the Crossroads beverages and added extra carbonation. Opening a cap of the Strawberry + Basil brings that “whoosh” familiar to pop drinkers. Its citrus flavor is tampered with the herb taste.

This growth is coming at a time when consumers are turning away from pop. Per capita soft-drink consumption in the U.S. fell to a 31-year low in 2016, the latest year with data available, according to trade publication Beverage-Digest.

Coca-Cola has been acquiring and investing in Honest Tea, Fairlife dairy and Suja Life LLC, which makes high-pressure processed juices, kombucha and drinking vinegars, according to Bloomberg News.

In 2016, PepsiCo bought kombucha maker KeVita.

Brookshire points to the lab-tested nutrition facts of kombucha with its 8 grams of sugar. A Mountain Dew would have about 50 grams, he said.

The probiotics in the drink are promoted for digestive health. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that people consume from fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchee and sauerkraut, said Samantha Kay, a registered dietician at Dupont Hospital.

Kombucha is a rich source of those good bacteria, said Amie Dent, RDN, CD, clinical dietitian at Parkview Weight Management & Bariatric Surgery, Outpatient Pediatric & Adult Weight Management.

“It can also help with inflammation in our GI (gastrointestinal) tract,” she said.

It may be the tea itself that helps a person feel better.

“There are so many health benefits from tea,” Dent said.

While dieticians promote fruit in the diet, if a kombucha drinker isn’t getting enough fruit, the drink is “better than nothing,” Dent said. It’s also a good replacement for sugary drinks that tend to make drinkers crave more sugar.

As with all things, everything in moderation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a limit of 4 ounces of kombucha a day, Dent said.

Crossroads has even discussed kombucha beer, and have teamed up with Chapman’s Brewing Co. to offer kombucha in its tap room and on its menu. They plan soon to work with Chapman’s master brewer on some projects.

Crossroads created a one-off flavor, Black Raspberry Vanilla Bean, in November that nine taprooms started pouring straight from the tap. All sales are going to Toys for Tots.

The flavor has a special place in the Brookshires’ hearts.

“Our grandmother made a lot of black raspberry pies, cobbler and jam, and it’s indigenous to Indiana,” he said.

The company is now at Parkview Regional Medical Center’s cafeteria and Fresh Thyme and soon will be in Lassus Handy Dandy convenience stores.

“Our goal is to really put our name on the map,” Brookshire said.

While maintaining relationships with area tea and fruit supplies, the company is looking at going statewide next year. It already has a Terre Haute customer and are eyeing distribution in the Indianapolis area. It already works with 5 Star Distribution in Columbia City to get the product in an area that ranges from the south side of Grant County north to Michigan and to Illinois and Ohio.

“It’s just a great product and we’re looking to find people on the fringe looking for a healthier lifestyle,” he said.

Having Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch visit in December was a highlight for Brookshire, he said. Crouch came to see how the state could boost the company to a statewide brand.

Crossroads Kombucha has four full-time employees and six to eight on rotation, but next year they expect to add to their workforce.

The refrigerated kombucha is sold in 16-ounce glass bottles for about $4.80 each. Find Crossroads Kombucha by going to www.crossroadskombucha.com/find-crossroads-kombucha.