EXCLUSIVE Interview with GT Dave of Synergy Kombucha: Product Back on Shelves in "Weeks"
Last week we reported that kombucha was pulled from all Whole Foods stores due to concern over slightly elevated alcohol levels. Today, the founder of market leader Synergy Kombucha, G.T. Dave, talked to me exclusively about the current situation.
MindBodyGreen: How are you holding up?
GT Dave: "It’s been challenging to say the least. The biggest challenge, of course, is dealing with the speculation, the rumors, and the misinformation that’s out there, which honestly pales in comparison to the true issue. That’s the most frustrating part because more of my time is devoted to diffusing issues that really shouldn’t exist, instead of issues that do exist and do need the attention."
MBG: When did you first learn about the situation?
GT: "We were contacted by Whole Foods Market's central office and they expressed concerns about elevated levels of alcohol in all kombucha products, and the position they wanted to take was to temporarily suspend sales of products until we understand the situation further."
MBG: When you got that phone call from Whole Foods, was this the first you heard of it? Were you shocked? How did you feel? (GT, pictured below right with mom, Laraine Dave)
GT: "Yes, a blend of emotions that were going through me at the time when you get a call like that. Obviously it’s not fun. But being in this business for many years, you learn to deal with everything and maintain a rational perspective because it's only with a rational perspective that you'll be able to address the true problems and come up with clear and concise solutions. The last thing you want to do is panic.
"From a consumer standpoint, we pride ourselves on having a very strong level of communication with all our consumers... I would say that 99.9% of everyone we we interact with is, 'So… is this really what’s going on?' Their primary concern and sole concern is 'when can we get it again?' From a consumer standpoint, this is a non-issue."
MBG: Where are you in the process of figuring things out?
GT: "We have two positions. One is of course we want to identify the situation, understand what products are non-compliant that are currently in the marketplace, address it, resolve it, learn from it. Obviously then we want to go back to getting product back on the shelf that we can feel confident that it’s 100 percent compliant."
MBG: How involved is the TTB (The Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) in the process?
GT: "The TTB regulates primarily product that’s above .5, so because our goal is to produce product that’s under .5, the TTB is not so much involved with that – they’re mostly involved with the above .5 situation."
MBG: Will the taste of your product be effected?
GT: "We always want to produce a product that is authentic and high in quality. From the beginning of time when I started doing this, the goal has never been to just sell a beverage for the sake of selling one. The goal has always been wanting to put out something that we genuinely feel offers health benefits and nutritional value to consumers. So everything we do will always been in line with that."
MBG: If your product is not available at Whole Foods Market right now, where else can people buy it?
GT: "There are some retailers still selling the product. We haven’t identified who’s selling it versus who’s not... Right now, it's not what we're trying to focus on."
MBG: When will product be back on the shelf at Whole Foods? Is it going to be weeks, months, or is it too early to tell? Do you know?
GT: "We’re working quickly to get things resolved and get product back on the shelf. It’s too early to give a definitive time frame, but we anticipate it’s going to be more like 'weeks' than it is 'months.'"
GT: "That is where most of the frustration exists, through the speculation and misinformation that’s out there. I realize it comes with the territory, we’re not immune to it, it happens in every situation like this where there’s not a lot of information and therefore there’s room for speculation. We’re doing our best to diffuse it. We know that our core consumers understand the situation because of their own personal experience with the product. At the end of the day, it’s all speculation.
"We’ve actually had a dialog with Lindsay Lohan’s people because of the recent speculation…The reality is that Lindsay has been drinking the product for over a year now. Her recent consumption is nothing new…. The only reason why it’s getting media attention is because her personal situation has worsened and people are paying more attention to what’s going on in her life. In addition to that, a few weeks ago, she left a salon when she went from jet black hair to blond, and she was photographed leaving that salon with one of our bottles, which caused more people in the media to pay attention to it…
"When her SCRAM bracelet went off...although it’s been verified there was no alcohol in her system and the SCRAM bracelet reading was false...that happened a week before our situation happened, so people on their own are trying to connect the dots, even though there are no dots to connect. "
MBG: Did you ever expect to be in the position where you’d be having a conversation with Lindsay Lohan's "people"?
GT: "Umm, no." (Laughing)
MBG: Anything you want to say to consumers reading this?
GT: "We pride ourselves on being a company that’s been producing this product for over 15 years. We feel strongly that we have the appropriate and effective manufacturing processes to make sure we are always producing a compliant product and a safe product. Our products are third party tested. We have a very professional and sophisticated approach to things. The reality of this current situation is that it is a technical one. This is not something that anywhere near the lines of food contamination or anything like that -- this is strictly a labeling issues that we are addressing. Our primary goal is getting product back on the shelf."
Monday 9/13/2010 Update!
GT Dave: Kombucha is Coming Back! (But How Soon May Depend on Your State)
Lindsay Lohan image via Jezebel