· By Sarah Goodman
KARA SAM IS A BADASS
A trip to Hawaii inspired Kara Sam to start making kombucha. Now she is the CEO and Founder of Bucha Brew, which makes low sugar kombucha using high-quality tea. She’s also a mom of two boys, a champion of improving the health of others and a total badass.
Kara Sam is the CEO & Founder of Bucha Brew, a mom to two boys, a champion of improving the health of others, and a total badass.
Who are you, and what do you do?
I am currently the founder and CEO of Bucha Brew Kombucha and Arlo Boozy Kombucha.
How did you get started in the kombucha space?
Years ago, I went to Hawaii on a family vacation and started drinking kombucha. My first son was two months old, and I was super tired of drinking water all the time, so when I found kombucha I got addicted super fast. I did a bit of research and learned it is good for digestion, which was good for me because I was always having low-level digestion issues when I was breastfeeding.
When I came back to Vancouver, there was only a brand from Montreal and a brand from California available, and I thought, how does this not exist locally? So, I started making it in my kitchen, giving it out to friends and family. I was a personal trainer back then, so many of my clients would drink it, and I got excellent feedback. With my husband’s encouragement, I took a really badly labelled bottle into Whole Foods that just said Bucha Brew on it with no other information. Two hours later they emailed me and told me they’d take it but I had to change a few things, including getting a business license and approval from Vancouver Coastal Health, which I did not have. They said the process is usually six weeks, so I had six weeks to turn it into a real company. At that point, it seemed worth it because I had seven stores which were all of the Whole Foods in BC.
What do you love most about the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space?
I like the opportunity to give people better choices. I think there is so much crap on the shelves with poorly made products that have lots of ingredients that people don’t actually need. To be able to offer people better options is one of my favourite things about the CPG space. The second thing would be seeing the innovation come out and the change in the category. When I first started, there was no kombucha category, it was just two random companies on the shelf in the dairy section with milk, which made no sense, but they didn’t know where to put it. Now, seeing how we’ve built the category and being a part of building that was a really cool experience – just to see how you can actually make a change in such a slow-moving industry.
What are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to face so far?
Financing is one of the biggest hurdles. When I went into this, I had no idea what running a company would be like, and we have been very underfunded. We had over 900% growth over the first three years of the business, which is easy to say when starting from nothing. To put it into context, we went from just over $100,000 in our first year to $1,000,000 in three years of business without really understanding how expensive it is to grow that fast. We’ve been really scrappy, which is good, but I think having a little bit more structure and knowledge earlier would have helped set us up for success moving forward into the future. The hard part is I don’t think you can learn that in school. I think that is something you learn from people who have done it before, or by doing it yourself. It’s been an incredible learning experience, super challenging at times, and obviously, we’ve made it through.
What do you see Bucha Brew growing into?
In the next ten years or so, I’d like to bring in people who really know what it takes to make this into a multi-million dollar company. I’d love to see kombucha replace pop on shelves with no pop options because it’s garbage and not helping people. If we can remove that from grocery stores, I’ll feel like it’s a job well done.
What do you do to nourish yourself? (both in life and nutritionally)
Being in nature and tons of mountain biking. Twice a year, I try to take off at least four days and go out of service. Just being off the grid and resetting is essential. The other piece is surrounding myself with a really loving and amazing community that now feels like my family. I feel their support, love, care, and kindness, and I love seeing them help eachother grow. I think that really nourishes the world. If we have a lot of happy people out there that want to do better, and be better, the world is only going to become a better place.
What do you look for in a snack?
Something healthy and crunchy with good texture. Really good flavour, I like strong flavours. It’s not like I’m looking to get health benefits from my snacks, but I don’t want the snack to be detrimental to my health.
What is something that people don’t know about you?
I have my Red Seal as a chef! That’s something that most people don’t know about me, and I think it contributes a lot to the flavours in the products that we make.
How can people find Bucha Brew online and learn more about your products?
When you see Bucha Brew on the shelves, turn them, so they look nice even if you don’t want to buy them! Support Arlo. We’re in a bunch of liquor stores across Vancouver. It’s boozy kombucha. I don’t love talking about health when talking about alcohol, but it is definitely a better choice, and it tastes delicious. The mango is yellow because we use real fruit in the drinks and it’s not a clear drink that’s flavoured with mango essence. We just launched our new fun fizzy waters, which are sparkling waters with just a little bit of lime, lemon, and grapefruit kombucha. You can’t actually taste any of the kombucha which is really awesome for people that don’t like the flavour but want some of the benefits from it. Tell your friends!