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October 22nd, 2019

Meet the Maker: Farm Boy Organic Kombucha

Our makers, farmers, and suppliers are the cornerstone of our business.

Without them, we wouldn’t have the array of beautiful produce that greets you when you walk in our doors, we wouldn’t have the well-stocked grocery shelves with high-quality pantry staples and innovative snacks. We wouldn’t have our premium meat products, our delicious frozen goodies, the freshest dairy, or mouthwatering cheese selection.

They bake our pies, harvest our honey, pick our apples, and churn our ice cream. They work with us to tweak and perfect our products week after week, month after month, so you get the very best.

We love the faces behind our products. They are part of what makes us great, and we’d like to introduce you.


This week we are talking to Zoey Shamai, the founder and creator of our Farm Boy Organic Kombucha. A yoga teacher – turned – fermentation wizard, Zoey started her company, Tonica, in 2006, after experiencing the benefits of kombucha firsthand. Now, she has a thriving operation and supplies us with fizzy, fermented kombucha in delicious flavours for everyone to enjoy.

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Hi Zoey! I’m sure you answer this all the time, but can you tell me what kombucha is?

Of course! Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage that is really good for you. Ours goes through two fermentations so it has a nice effervescence, and we use dried fruits and fruit essences to make really delicious flavours. 

Thank you! Now, can you tell us a little bit about your start and your introduction to kombucha? 

I was a yoga teacher, and I was studying yoga in New Mexico in a yoga community, an ashram. And everybody there made kombucha. It was the first time I’d ever seen it. And kombucha looks like…a wet pancake, the bacterial culture. And it floats in tea. So I was a little scared of it, but eventually I tried it and it was amazing for my digestion. 

I was a vegetarian, but I had never had this digestive power, where I could eat bread or cheese or whatever I wanted and feel okay afterwards.

So I started to make it and brought it back to Toronto, and put it on the menu at a restaurant where I was waitressing and soon people started to ask if they could bring home bottles. In 2006, my little company was actually called the Fairy’s Tonic because I would ride around on my bike, bringing people kombucha. 

I took it to my local health food store and asked if they would carry it, and they agreed to. So from there, I just went store to store, and grew it, and a few years in, I got my first distributor, who started to take us to over 100 stores in Ontario. 

In 2012 I went on the Dragon’s Den. People still had no idea what kombucha was, but I had a good little business going at that point, so I ended up with 3 offers. Ultimately I ended up not taking the deal, and about 4 months in I decided I would just do it myself

And what is your overarching goal? 

My own personal mission with Tonica was that…when I first tried kombucha it tasted really bad. It’s yeasty and fermented. It’s amazing for you, but I realized that people just wouldn’t try it. Even friends and family. I would try to convince them like, “you’ll feel amazing, you’ll get a flat belly,” and they still said no. 

So my mission was to make it taste good. Make it taste so that everyone would drink it. And even if it was a little less strong on the palate, it could be something that everyone would drink and get the benefits of. 

Amazing. And I think you’ve done it with the flavours you make for us at Farm Boy. And kombucha really got popular fast…!

It’s great that it’s expanding and being purchased by larger beverage companies so that kombucha is more widespread, but they’re not always going through the authentic process. 

With Tonica, we always ferment for 60 days on our first round of batch. So we make sure whoever’s drinking it is going to get that live bacteria and it’s going to help their gut. 

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And how do you develop the flavours? That must be the fun part.

I first started with a gingery “original.” They had different names back then. Like energizing green tea. Or spicy peach.

It was me tinkering around in my own kitchen, originally, trying to come up with the flavours. And I still do – all of the Farm Boy flavours, I’ve made myself. 

We’ll make a whole bunch and get rid of as many not-as-good ones as I can, and submit them to the Farm Boy team or our own team for feedback. It’s a fun process and it’s challenging to keep coming up with great flavours, and it’s great when we do. I love the Mango Grapefruit. 

But they’re all made with a tea base?

Yeah. So we always use the same base for the primary fermentation, but then for the secondary fermentation, we add in different teas and dried fruits and extracts. 

So the process is – the kombucha culture feeds off of sugar and tea – so it goes into sugar and tea and it ferments, and after that, it’s strained and we put it into a larger vat where we add in the flavours. 

Now secondary fermentation is often used to make a natural carbonation, which we did until 2 years ago, but now we use carbonation tanks, which is better for quality control and timeline. 

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Ok, so it goes into the carbonation tanks, gets bubbly, and then you bottle it?

Yes, exactly!

And can you speak more to the health benefits and how you think they work with kombucha?

So with our body, we’re filled with a lot of enzymes at an early age that help us digest food. When we age, those enzymes die off and in that process, it’s harder for us to digest food and lose weight as we get older. There start to be problems with the digestive tract. 

So with kombucha or other real foods like sauerkraut and raw yogurt, because they’re fermented, they’ve already metabolized themselves and they have a lot of enzymes in them. So when we eat them, combined with the bacteria, and kombucha in particular, the healthy yeast. They A. help to power up the digestive tract. Because they have their own enzymes they have their own digesting power. And B. particularly with kombucha, it’s quite alkaline, so it helps to balance out the acidity we get from processed foods, and pollution, and stress in our lifestyle. 

On top of that the yeasts in it are really good for you. A lot of people have negative associations with “yeasts” but this is a fission yeast, which means it basically works to balance the body, help fight bad critters.

And one of the biggest things that kombucha has been touted for is that – it was first discovered in 221 B.C. in China, and it made its way to China and Eastern Europe, and people talk about its ability to help the liver. We’ve done a lot of research with Guelph University Food Technology and they’re doing more, but the idea is that this element or ingredient called glucuronic acid binds to toxins in the liver, so if you have buildup in the liver or intestinal tract, this stuff binds to it. But it’s water soluble. So it grabs all the gunk and flushes it out. 

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And how much can you use the “mother,” that ‘wet pancake’ thing you talked about before?

So, every time it ferments, it creates a second layer called the “baby”… we have a process of reusing the mother a number of times before it gets composted. 

Very cool. Ok, so you started on your own. And now? How big is your team? 

Thirteen people on the internal team, and we have brokers, distributors, we contract out for marketing, but it’s a small core and we extend out. 

It’s so nice to have support and it’s always amazing to keep relying them in and being like, “I can delegate this!”

Are there other uses for kombucha or do you just drink it straight?

Well we’re always putting out different cocktail or mocktail recipes because a lot of people want to go out without having alcohol and kombucha is perfect for that because it’s got that fermented quality, but it doesn’t have any alcohol or the calories. 

It’s a complex drink!

Yeah! And it’s also delicious with gin and vodka, so as a mixer it’s low sugar and you get way less of a hangover than with other mixed drinks.

Do you drink it every day? 

I do. I make my own very strong DIY kombucha at home, but out, I drink Tonica. I just switch between whatever’s going on the line. 

And it’s had a profound impact on my health. Bigtime. If I go away and the place doesn’t have kombucha, I’m jonesing by the time I come back.

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Thank you
so much Zoey. What a fascinating process and a really entrepreneurial story. We’re excited to grab a Farm Boy Organic Kombucha and get sipping. 

 

 

Emily

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