Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. Though being your own boss comes with its perks, you can also expect blurry work-life boundaries and a stronger need for mental toughness. However, for founders of MOMO Kombucha, Josh and Lisa Puddle, it was always in the cards.
With Josh’s previous role as an equity analyst and Lisa working at a fashion start-up in Berlin, the duo was always finding themselves discussing ideas for a future business. “We were both interested in the stories behind how businesses were started and the ingredients that made some successful,” shared Josh. “When we came across kombucha in New York, we couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a big thing in the UK. We loved how it tasted, it made us feel amazing when we drank it, and I felt strongly that we could start a kombucha company back in the UK,” added Lisa.
Often touted as the next big trend in wellness, gut health has been really having its moment this year, with many of us looking at ways to improve our immunity. But the Puddles are adamant that kombucha is more than just a trend. Lisa explained: “We don’t like the ‘hipster’ perception with kombucha, which seems to put some people off. We have such a broad range of consumers, including our one-year-old daughter and Josh’s 95-year-old granny, and we’d hate people thinking it isn’t for them because of some misconception.”
“Our aim is to produce the UK’s best tasting and highest quality kombucha. We achieve this by hand crafting MOMO the old-fashioned way using the finest organic ingredients we can source,” added Josh.
Made with organic loose-leaf tea, filtered water, organic raw cane sugar, and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Cold-pressed organic juice and organic dried flowers are used to create flavours like raspberry-hibiscus, ginger-lemon, turmeric, and elderflower.
We speak to Josh and Lisa to hear more about the process of creating their award-winning products and what it’s like running a family business.
What’s the one thing you wish you knew before starting your business?
There were so many things we were naïve about. We had no idea how expensive it was to rent a premises in London. We hadn’t completely factored in how much it cost to physically transport the product and we didn’t have a proper grasp of how much of the margin would be taken by wholesalers. Having said that, I think that naivety played in our favour, because if we’d known the reality of all those details we might never have begun.
What are the main differences between kombucha adoption in the US vs the UK?
Commercial kombucha in the US started on the west coast in the mid-nineties. It very much started as a functional health drink that was popular in farmer’s markets and alternative health supermarkets. There were very few kombucha brands available and the ones that were being sold were the real thing – organic, unfiltered, unpasteurised and fully fermented. Consumers were used to bits floating in the liquid, having some bottles fizzier than others, and understanding that the product might taste a little different from batch to batch.
It took a long time in the US for big companies to see kombucha as a trend and start releasing their versions which were typically quite different from an authentic kombucha. These versions were super fine filtered, pasteurised, and sometimes blended from concentrate. Unfortunately, in the UK, these commercialised, mass-produced kombuchas have been here from the start, so consumers here have a less clear idea of how an authentic kombucha should look and taste.
The good and the bad, we want to hear it all! What’s it like working with your partner 24/7?
We are really fortunate that we’ve enjoyed working with each other. Building MOMO is such a huge part of our lives and we love creating it together. In terms of the reality of working together, it has definitely helped that we have complementary skills; Lisa is focused on marketing and the aesthetic of the brand, whilst Josh is focused on sales and operations.
Having said that, there is no question that it has been a very full-on few years. Alongside starting MOMO, we’ve also had two children, Cece who is now three and Kaia who is one. In a lot of ways, MOMO feels like a third child.
In a world of people wanting things instantly, what made you decide to stick to the old-fashioned way of brewing your kombucha?
From the start, we had a really strong feeling that we wanted to build a brand that people cared about and one that would stand the test of time. To do this, we felt we had to do everything we could to produce the best tasting and highest quality kombucha.
As part of our research into how to make kombucha, we spoke to as many commercial brewers as we could. We spoke to commercial brewers in Europe and the US and the thing we kept hearing was that the best kombucha they’d ever made was created at home in a small glass jar. That was how we were already making it, and it tasted really amazing, so we decided early on that we would commit to the homemade method of production.
Does it really make a difference?
Absolutely. Kombucha fermentation is delicate; you need the bacteria and yeast to be balanced and, at the beginning, you need to make sure there is plenty of oxygen for the yeast to break down the sugar. The larger you make the vessel, the higher the risk that these factors become out of balance. Also, our kombucha is unpasteurised and completely unfiltered, which means we keep all the living bacteria and yeast in the liquid. This makes it better for you and gives it a much fuller depth of flavour.
Covid-19 has made people a lot more in-tune with their health and wellness. Has this had an impact on your business as it fits into this category?
It’s perhaps a bit early to jump to conclusions, and difficult to pick out trends as so many of our retail customers have been closed for significant chunks of the year, but yes, we think so. There is an increasing amount of research on the links between gut health and immunity which has definitely led people to seek out our kombucha.
Who is your typical customer?
We always think of Lisa as our typical customer: female, between 25 and 45, into health and fitness, and not a big boozer.
How do you come up with new flavours and products? Tell me more about your research and development process.
We are fortunate to now have an amazing head brewer, Matt Canham, who loves playing around with different ingredients and new flavours. It is funny as some flavours that you’d expect to work well don’t come through at all, and others get magnificently magnified by the kombucha. We are really excited to launch a limited edition kombucha in collaboration with one of our favourite brands in early 2021.
What are some of the kombucha myths you’re keen on busting?
The biggest myth with kombucha is that people get confused around the SCOBY. SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast and it is essentially the engine that drives the fermentation of the sweet tea.
When kombucha is brewed, the bacteria produces cellulose nanofibers which cover the top of the brew, essentially making this white jellylike disc. A lot of people think this physical pellicle is essential for making kombucha, but it isn’t. What’s needed is the liquid contained in the pellicle which contains millions of living cultures.
What are your favourite places for: 1) a healthy meal, 2) a digital detox, 3) a great workout.
For a healthy meal, we love The Elder Press Café in Hammersmith where everything is delicious and the space is beautiful; EN ROOT in Brixton does incredible plant based Indian food and does the most amazing Masala Dosas; and for a treat, Wild by Tart in Victoria is exceptional.
For a digital detox, Josh heads to the lake for some wakeboarding and Lisa will treat herself to some Ayurvedic Massage Therapy from Natalie Eve Roper. For a great workout, we’ll either go swimming at Brockwell Lido, get hot and sweaty at Hotpod Yoga, or head to Steel Warriors in Ruskin Park.