#Asktheindustry - Freya Twigden, founder of Fix8

In our #asktheindustry series, we’ll be speaking candidly to UK businesses about the unique challenges of operating in their industry sector. From household names operating on the international stage to start-ups planning to get there, we'll be going behind the scenes with some truly unique UK businesses.

In this first edition we'll be shining a light on the UK food and drink industry. We cover topics such as how to get your product out there, manufacturing at scale, distribution, financing growth, recovering from a recession, building a brand and staying motivated.

How have these businesses built their brands and successfully scaled? What challenges have they faced along the way? What lessons have they learned? What advice do they have for anyone on a similar journey? For all this and more, join the conversation at #asktheindustry.

In this instalment we speak to Freya Twigden, founder of Fix8 Kombucha, about scaling up from her home kitchen to being sold in more than 300 independent UK stores, Ocado and Whole Foods Market.

Fix8 manufactures and sells premium craft kombucha - that’s naturally fermented tea to the uninitiated - which is cultured in small batches by hand at their South London microbrewery.

Tell us a little more about yourself and the company

I first discovered kombucha when I was living in Shanghai on a year abroad from university where I studied Chinese medicine. One week, the doctor brought in some of her own kombucha and I tried it and became completely obsessed with it.

Kombucha is a sparkling fermented tea drink, which comes from Asia thousands of years ago. It was commonly known over there as the tea of immortality for its health giving properties.

It's fizzy, refreshing - a great soft drink or alternative to alcohol.

What was the motivation to start Fix8?

So when I returned from Shanghai, I couldn't find kombucha anywhere and I just decided to start making my own, but it was through that process that I thought maybe there will be something that other consumers like myself want and, therefore, if others want it, then maybe Fix8 would be a good idea.

Where can we find your products?

We’re available in over 300 independent coffee shops, delis and restaurants, and we’re online at Ocado and also available in Whole Foods Market.

What’s were the first steps from Kitchen to home brewery?

Scaling up from home to brewery was very challenging. And aside from watching an insane amount of YouTube videos about how to carbonate a corny keg, I was also reading lots of scientific articles about the science of kombucha, because kombucha is very scientific and we were discussing with professors of fermentation in the Netherlands about how to create a different flavor profile in our brews.

From a more technical point of view, I was looking at fermentation and realising that it was quite similar to beer making. So I actually got in touch with various different craft beer brewers, and went to visit their breweries. And they would help us in terms of equipment, sourcing, raw materials, things like general knowledge of how to put draining into a brewery. And that was actually how we met our head brewer Chris. He used to be head of beer at Beer 52.

How have you funded your business?

We went through an SIS raise and that allowed us to invest in our brand and set up our production facility to start making the product and selling it. Now that we've proved the concept, we're about to enter another raise through EIS and that's going to basically allow us to grow and scale quite rapidly.

What have been your biggest challenges so far?

One challenge is that kombucha is still a relatively unknown product. So when you're having a conversation with buyers, it's actually getting them to understand and buy into kombucha as a product and why they should list it on their shelf.

Part of the challenge, I think, was getting listed with a wholesaler that then distributed into these bigger retail shops. So some are willing to work directly, but generally they prefer you to go through a wholesaler. So we would then start engaging with the wholesaler and there would be a pull-through demand from the retailer to actually list our product on the shelf.

So to find a wholesaler, I just had to ask the questions, you know, I'd be engaging with a buyer, and ask, “Which wholesalers do you work with?” If they weren't responsive to me, I would even just go to the shop and ask the people on the floor, “Who do you distribute through? Who supplies your products to the shelf” and I’d find information that way.

What is next for your business? 

So we’ve just released our canned ambient product, which we're really excited about because this will allow us to position kombucha in new channels and even export it. Whereas previously that would be a lot more difficult with a chilled glass product.

And I think what we're really excited about is evolving kombucha as a category, and evolving the occasions at which you would drink kombucha. So not just in the health food shop, but maybe at the festival, maybe at the bar, maybe on a plane or a train.

Having an ambient product in a can will allow us to put kombucha into those channels, and those areas where, previously, we might not have been able to.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to anyone starting out today?

So if I could give one piece of advice, it will be that there is never going to be the perfect time to start your business. And that really, you just need to get started. It will change over time. You will get feedback on it, you will iterate, but get a minimal viable product out there to the market and pivot, change and evolve based on the feedback you're hearing.