Photo courtesy Luna Bay Booch
The cans say "Born in Chicago," but the idea for Luna Bay Booch was born in the waves of San Diego.
Bridget Connelly lives and surfs in Encinitas, and it was in local waters that she decided to start a hard kombucha company in summer 2018. “Surfing is a lot of the times I feel the most peace and clarity in my life,” she says, “Where the vision for Luna Bay became clear was out in the ocean.”
The marketing professional and yoga enthusiast had recently moved back to the area after work had taken her to Chicago, Australia, and Africa, including a stint as social media strategist for active apparel brand Lululemon. She saw opportunity in the emergence of hard kombucha, as the beverage has skyrocketed in appeal among those with active lifestyles, like herself. “I’ve always been very health conscious,” she points out, “but also come from a big Irish family, and like to have fun.”
She reached out to a childhood friend, Claire Ridge, a yoga instructor and kombucha homebrewer in Chicago, and the two founded Luna Bay Booch Co.. However, Connelly knew starting in San Diego would be tough, due to the presence of Boochcraft — which established the hard kombucha market here in 2016 — and a then starting out Juneshine.
“I didn’t want to launch in such a competitive market space,” she says. However, while Boochcraft was spreading rapidly up the West Coast, the Midwest was another story. “California sets the trends,” she thought, “Let me take this to Chicago… hard kombucha hadn’t made it there yet.”
So Luna Bay became the first hard booch brand to launch in Chicago, brewed in a contracted facility there beginning last October. They consulted with a sour beer brewer and brewery microbiologist to refine and can Ridge’s booch, which, rather than tea, is made from a yerba mate base. Connelly notes a yerba-based kombucha takes longer to brew, but “We’re willing to take longer in the tanks, because it is a flavor that we love”
Within six months, the brand had already outgrown its Chicago brewing capacity, and had entered into another similar arrangement with Denver, Colorado’s Crazy Mountain Brewery, where production is led by Luna Bay’s female head brewer, Joanna Denne.
Brewing in Colorado makes it easier to ship west, and so, in March, the brand reached an agreement with Scout distribution to take on an increasingly crowded San Diego market; not as an upstart, but as an established and growing brand. Though, to better meet San Diegans' expectations, the brand embraced 16-ounce cans for the first time.
Of course, we all know what else happened in March. “We launched in the most competitive market in the middle of a pandemic,” Connelly says with a laugh, “literally the day the stay shelter in place started.” However, despite the added challenge, Luna Bay’s sales team, including Connelly herself, has managed to place the brand’s aluminum cans in virtually all the region’s kombucha-friendly markets, including Whole Foods, Barons, and Jimbo’s supermarkets, pushing flavors of ginger lemon, hibiscus lavender, and the newly launched huckleberry basil. “We’ve been able to build relationships through our masks,” says Connelly.
Beyond its social media and sales teams, she adds that one reason the brand has been able to move so quickly was the decision not to invest time and resources in building and licensing a brewery. “For us,” she says, “it makes more sense to contract and not own or lease our own space.”
With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, this could be the case for some time, s Luna Bay now distributes to seven states and counting, acquiring its own brewery could eventually prove a wise move, and she hasn’t ruled out making Luna Bays permanent home in San Diego, most likely if a turnkey brewery opportunity arises. “It would probably make our lives a lot easier.”