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A taste of the good life with All About Kombucha and King of Kefir

The Dunnes Stores Simply Better collection has a well-deserved reputation for award-winning food and drink. Behind the scenes it also champions small Irish producers, helping them to grow while doing what they do best. This month, we caught up with two drinks producers ahead of the summer season. Partner content with Dunnes Stores Simply Better.

Gerry Scullion and Keith O’Reilly of King of Kefir have recently joined the Dunnes Stores Simply Better family

Most of us enjoy a chilled fizzy drink or two in the summer but it can be hard to find tasty options that aren’t full of sugar, additives or artificial ingredients. Luckily, there are some great Irish brands that are creating soft drink alternatives that don’t just taste good, they’re good for you too. This month, we caught up with Keith Loftus of All About Kombucha and Gerry Scullion from King of Kefir to chat gut heath, sustainability and summer flavours.

Both recent additions to the Simply Better family, they’re championing delicious natural ingredients with exciting health benefits and are putting quality, authenticity and sustainability at the forefront of what they’re doing.

Best friends Keith Loftus and Emmett Kerrigan discovered kombucha while living in Vancouver, Canada a number of years ago. A type of fermented sparkling tea, kombucha is believed to offer lots of health benefits, from increasing energy to aiding digestion and supporting good bacteria in the gut. It was a revelation, says Keith. “When we had our first bottle of kombucha, the two of us thought, what is this stuff?” he laughs.

Keith Loftus and Emmett Kerrigan, All About Kombucha, discovered kombucha while living in Canada Photo by CJ NASH

With its natural ingredients and health benefits, kombucha fit perfectly with the self-improvement, outdoorsy lifestyle Keith and Emmett were enjoying in Canada. “When it came time to go home to Galway, we decided to bring our favourite drink home with us,” Keith says. “And we wanted to make sure that sustainability was a key part of our process too.”

And so All About Kombucha was born and it has since grown from small beginnings to a 6,500sq foot carbon neutral brewery in Claregalway, Co Galway. Mindful that not all kombucha drinks are created equal, Keith and Emmett have been able to stand by the quality of their product from day one.

“Our CFUs (the probiotic good bacteria) are in the millions,” Keith explains. “On top of that, our kombuchas would have a lot of the antioxidants from the tea itself and then anything that’s fermented, there’ll be natural acids too that can help detox the body.” All About Kombucha launched three products with Simply Better back in January – Simply Better Organic Rose & Apple Kombucha, Simply Better Organic Passion Fruit & Mint Kombucha, and Simply Better Organic Cucumber & Lemon Kombucha – and they’ve been an instant hit.

“Our main problem is stocking shelves – they’re running out in some stores quicker than we’re making them! Organic Passion Fruit & Mint is number one seller so far,” he explains. “But the one that surprises people, and my personal favourite, is the Organic Cucumber & Lemon Kombucha. It’s just so refreshing.”

The All About Kombucha range of drinks for Dunnes Stores Simply Better includes three flavours: cucumber and lemon, rose and apple, and passion fruit and mint

Working with the Simply Better team has been a very positive experience, Keith says. “They’re like a family and want you to do well. With the rising cost of everything at the moment, to be working with a major retailer means that not only have we been able to keep everyone in work, but we’ve been able to take people on as well. It feels great.”

Also new to the Simply Better shelves is King of Kefir. Along with his wife, Monika, and long-time colleague Keith O’Reilly, Gerry Scullion has turned King of Kefir from the small kitchen table enterprise he founded more than a decade ago into a thriving business that now operates out of a customised space in Ardee Food Hub, Co Louth.

Water kefir is a live culture fermented beverage which is full of beneficial and gut-friendly bacteria and yeast. The King of Kefir water kefirs are 100 per cent natural and free of artificial flavourings, preservatives, and additives. “Through the process we’ve developed we can stand over our water kefir being an authentic, clean and natural drink,” Gerry explains. “Everything is organic, that’s very important.”

“The big thing, I think, is that these days we have every choice at our fingertips. And some products are better for you than others”

“We use only plant ingredients and make our flavours from that, and the kefir culture carbonates the drink itself.This makes our drinks very sustainable and reduces our carbon footprint dramatically. We use organic apple juice sugars from Highbank Orchard in Kilkenny – the culture eats those sugars and ferments the drink, gently fizzing it up naturally over 14 days.”

Gerry and the team have recently launched three products with the Simply Better range – Simply Better Organic Lemongrass & Ginger Water Kefir, Simply Better Organic Chilli & Ginger Water Kefir, and Simply Better Organic Mint & Lemon Water Kefir. “The Organic Mint and Lemon is a new flavour for us,” Gerry says. “It tastes fantastic. We’re very happy with it.”

They’re not the only ones, it seems. “The response to the products has taken us by surprise – in the best way,” Gerry says. “We thought it would take some time for people to understand the products and decide to give them a try. We were on-shelf for two weeks and the next orders came in. The Simply Better team have been very supportive; they want to see us succeed and that has been wonderful. The team is brilliant, outstanding really.”

“We’re beginning to take on more staff ourselves now, which is fantastic, so we’re going to be able to increase employment in the local area as a result of our work with Simply Better,” he adds.

While expanding the business is of course an exciting prospect, there is another outcome that Gerry is perhaps even more pleased about. “Our partnership with Simply Better has really given me the headspace to get back to what I love - discovering new ingredients and creating recipes and flavours,” he says. “That’s the creative part of this for me and I love it.”

The King of Kefir range for Dunnes Stores Simply Better includes three flavours of water kefir: lemongrass and ginger, mint and lemon, and chilli and ginger

With the huge success of both ranges on the Simply Better shelves already, it’s clear that Irish consumers are not only prioritising their health and wellness but they know quality when they taste it.

Or to put it another way: “The big thing, I think, is that these days we have every choice at our fingertips. And some products are better for you than others,” says Keith. “So, in a world where you’ve got that choice, why not make a conscious decision and choose something that’s good for you?” All the better if it tastes great too.

Both products are now available in Dunnes Stores nationwide, click here to see more.