UNFI, a major health food distributor — and a large supplier of kombucha to Whole Foods — has determined that unpasteurized kombucha products "may not meet federal regulations governing the sale and labeling of products containing alcohol." Any alcohol level present in food or drink over .5 percent must be sufficiently labeled with a government warning. Currently, the drink is being evaluated to ensure it is "safe."
Whole Foods released this statement to Xpress: "Key national kombucha suppliers have voluntarily withdrawn products until further notice, due to concern around potential labeling issues related to slightly elevated alcohol levels in some products. After conversations with several kombucha suppliers, we share the concern and have removed all kombucha products at this time because of the potential labeling issue. We are passionate about this product category, and about offering our shoppers the very best quality (of) local and artisanal products.
“We have even extended loans through our Local Producer Loan Program to several small kombucha makers who supply us with their products. We are working hand in hand with these producers as they review these potential labeling issues to find a solution to rectify this situation."
Sarah Schomber, one of the owners of Buchi Kombucha, says that the pulling of kombucha from the shelves of Greenlife has not impacted Buchi's sales in a negative fashion — as a matter of fact, she says, sales have increased.
"(UNFI has) agreed not to sell any kombucha to any other health-food store for as long as Whole Foods has this hold," Schomber explains. "Now all of the other health food stores can't get kombucha, simply because the distributor won't give it to them," says Schomber.
To that end, she says, since Buchi is a small, local company that self-distributes, they've been able to proceed with sales in other places besides Greenlife — the company's sales to the French Broad Food Co-op, for example, have increased greatly. She also adds that Buchi is complying with third-party testing to ensure that their product falls within federal guidelines for alcohol content and labeling. "I think it's a good thing," she says.
Calls to Earth Fare supermarket headquarters revealed that the store will continue to carry Buchi products for as long as they are able. The Synergy brand kombucha is conspicuously absent on the shelves, but the supermarket is carrying Buchi on tap. In Asheville, Buchi is still available at the French Broad Co-op,Tod's Tasties on Montford Avenue, Rosetta's on Lexington Avenue and the Laughing Seed on Wall Street and several more locations. Visit drinkbuchi.com for more information.