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Crazy For Kombucha: Labeling and Compliance Regulations For Fermented Tea

November 18, 2019

Thanks to the growing wellness industry, food and beverage trends tend to pop up quite rapidly. Some of the most popular products have actually been around for years but may have gained massive traction more recently, allowing both small labels and large corporations to create new offerings that appeal to health-conscious consumers.

One of those products is kombucha. While this beverage -- which is typically comprised of tea and sugar that has been fermented with bacteria and yeast -- can be traced back to at least the early 1900s, it really didn't start to become widely consumed in the United States until the early 2000s. But since that time, sales of kombucha really took off. In fact, a Markets and Markets analysis found that kombucha sales increased by nearly five times between 2013 and 2015 to roughly $600 million a year. And in 2017, the Specialty Food Association reports, the global kombucha market generated $1.5 billion in sales. That's an impressive feat for a beverage that's generally thought to be an acquired taste.

That said, it hasn't been all smooth sailing for kombucha makers. Despite the impressive health benefits associated with this drink (which include improved immunity and digestion, weight loss, complexion and hair loss improvements, and even increased liver function and claims of cancer prevention), the alcohol content of kombucha has proven to be a huge hiccup. Back in 2010, kombucha suppliers removed their products from store shelves after it was discovered that many of these products contained alcohol levels above those allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Due to the way in which kombucha is produced, this beverage will always have a small amount of alcohol present. However, there's a threshold allowed by the FDA; if that threshold is exceeded, labels for beverages like these would be regulated by the U.S. Department of Treasury's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Instead of being regularly available to all consumers to purchase, kombucha products that exceed 0.5% alcohol by volume would be regulated in the same way that wine, beer, and other spirits are.

In other words, it's essential for kombucha makers to follow all regulations pertaining to beverage content and label design. Ideally, most manufacturers will want to ensure their products can be purchased and consumed by virtually all Americans, which means they'll want kombucha alcohol content to always remain below 0.5% (and subsequently follow all FDA requirements). Assuming this is the case for your kombucha product, you'll still need to include this alcohol content information on your custom beverage labels. After all, 54% of consumers say they read a product's label the first time they buy it.

Including all pertinent information, especially in regards to alcohol content, on labels for beverages is essential. The FDA also requires kombucha makers to include much of the same information required on other labels for food products and beverages on their principal display and information panels, such as:

  • Common name/statement of identity
  • Product brand
  • Amount of product/net quality statement
  • Manufacturer name and address
  • Packer or distributor name and address (if different from manufacturer)
  • Ingredient list
  • Nutrition facts
  • Allergy labeling (as required)

The FDA also has strict guidelines regarding the health claims manufacturers are allowed to make on labels for beverages like kombucha. In order to make authorized health claims, Significant Scientific Agreement (SSA) standards must be met -- meaning that experts have determined that a health claim is supported by scientific evidence available to the public. Qualified health claims must also be supported by scientific evidence, but they do not need to meet SSA standards. Nutrient content claims (e.g., "zero," "reduced," "excellent source of," etc.) can be made if specific nutrients in your product align with FDA standards.

Ultimately, designing labels for beverages like kombucha can be a confusing process -- particularly if you aren't sure whether your product qualifies as an alcoholic drink or not. By working with a qualified labeling company, you can ensure compliance and entice customers to try this trendy beverage.

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