Grand Rapids Business Grows from Bottled KombuchaBy Jane Whitttington on November 3rd, 2016 /
Emily Helmus started her business, Bloom Ferments, in 2012, but it was a couple of years before that when she discovered kombucha. Not sure what that is? You’re not alone. Though kombucha was brewed as early as 1900 in Russia and its first mention in Germany was in 1911, it wasn’t popular in the United States until the mid-90’s, and that was mostly on the east and west coasts. Now kombucha is gaining popularity throughout the country, and one Grand Rapids small business is providing it to West Michigan.
Kombucha is a fermented, somewhat effervescent sweetened black or green tea that is drunk not only for its flavor but also for its health benefits.
“I started fermenting in 2011. I had been getting terrible stomach aches; in fact, there were times when I had to miss work because they were so severe. I started seeing a naturopath, and he told me that there was an imbalance in my digestive system and that eating fermented foods would help me,” Helmus said.
Helmus tried all kinds of food that could be fermented such as sauerkraut, breads, yoghurt, pickles. They all helped improve energy levels so much that her digestive problems went away.
“I began trading my ferments with the naturopath for my visits there. After I’d been interacting with him for a year or so, he said, ‘You ought to sell this stuff.”
She continues, “I definitely felt like I wanted to share this with everybody, so I set about establishing Bloom Ferments, which makes, bottles and distributes kombucha.”
Live yeast and bacteria cultures are used in the fermentation process. Some of the cultures come from previously brewed kombucha, some from a cellulose pellicle known as the SCOBY or mother, and some from microbes in the air. Bloom Ferments uses organic and fair-trade ingredients and filtered water along with teas, herbs and a little minimally processed sugar. They sell three staple flavors, ginger, lavender/hibiscus, and jasmine, as well as some seasonal blends. More detailed information about the product can be found on their website.
Bloom Ferments is housed in the Uptown Kitchen, part of the Grand Rapids City Market in downtown Grand Rapids.
“Right now, our kombucha is sold in about 100 locations in Michigan including some restaurants. We haven’t done a lot of marketing—it is mostly through word of mouth that information about our product gets out there,” Helmus said. “We started out doing the distribution ourselves, but now we partner with Cherry County Foods to get our product distributed. They have also helped us get new customers and increase our volume.”
SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) helpd her plenty when she was first getting started, offering guidance in decision making. Right now, the company has six employees and are looking at other ways to grow.
“Besides the kombucha sold in stores and restaurants, we offer classes and starter kits for people who want to do some fermenting on their own,” she said.
Helmus is committed to running a community-oriented business; she says, “I like to say that we are growing culture and community.”
For more information about Bloom Ferments, go to www.bloomferments.com