Local kombucha company expanding in Bristol

BRISTOL — When husband-wife duo Jeff Weaber and Katina Martin moved back to Addison County in 2005, Martin — a naturopathic physician — founded Salisbury Natural Family Health the following year.
Weaber, with his years of brewing experience in Oregon, decided to combine his and his wife’s skillsets to create a beverage high in vitamins and probiotic yeast and bacteria: kombucha, a slightly fermented tea first produced in Asia. In the autumn of 2007, the kombucha company Aqua Vitea was born in the basement of Weaber and Martin’s Salisbury home.
Five years later, the company has outgrown that basement and is moving to a 3,000-square-foot space in the Bristol business campus Bristol Works. With an $80,000 loan from Bristol’s revolving loan fund, Aqua Vitea is expanding its production by 500 percent and shifting to a new brewing system that it’s been experimenting with for years.
According to Weaber, the move is long overdue.
“We reached capacity a year and a half ago. We had growing demand, and we couldn’t expand,” he said. “Production doubled every year until we hit capacity and then it stagnated. Sales were the same between 2010 and 2011. Then, we added about 500 square feet of space and we were up 45 percent this year.
“The whole basement of my house has been taken over by this enterprise, and it’s getting a little wacky.”
Weaber’s amazed that the business has grown as quickly as it has. He said that the company has very few people working on the sales front, and almost all of Aqua Vitea’s accounts have come to the business via word of mouth.
Last year, Weaber said Aqua Vitea was producing 800 gallons of kombucha a month. “I hope to be doing that much every week this next year,” he said. And he doesn’t want to stop there.
“The company will expand on all levels,” he said. “We’re going to need to pull in talented people on the administrative side to expand sales and distribution. Since we distribute ourselves, the more accounts we have, the more people we’re going to need on the road. And manufacturing is growing, so there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for employment.”
As the company expands, Weaber couldn’t think of a better place to do it than Bristol.
“The vision of the Bristol Works campus is very much in line with what we’re doing,” he said. “The campus’ founders are looking to help improve the health of the community with health centers, a renewable energy component and value-added agricultural producers.
“We’d really like to see Bristol become known as an example of a healthy community in Vermont, and I think that’s the intention of Kevin Harper, who started Bristol Works.”
Furthermore, Weaber touted the area’s fresh water as a big bonus. He said the clean mountain water coming down off the Green Mountains will help set Aqua Vitea’s kombucha apart from a growing number of competitors. The $80,000 loan the town gave Aqua Vitea was also a big bonus for the company, enabling Weaber to implement a system he’s been wanting to build for years.
“It’s a process I’ve been dreaming about for five years now,” he said. “We’ve been testing a new system in our current space, and I think it’s going to really improve our new product. So that $80,000 will really help to make our kombucha better.”
The company also works with a number of local businesses, like Middlebury’s Stone Leaf Tea House, which helps Aqua Vitea source its organic tea. Aqua Vitea has also teamed up with Vermont Cranberry Co. and local apple orchards to create an Eastern-minded product with a Vermont spin.  
With a new system, a larger space and an expanded team, Weaber hopes to turn Aqua Vitea into one of the leading drivers of the kombucha industry.
“This is an opportunity to take the industry forward because we are implementing new ways to brew this product,” he said. “We’re bringing it out of an ancient culture, where it was brewed in mud huts … and doing it on a larger scale. That’s really exciting to me. We’re not just following some model someone else has created, we’re taking the science forward.”

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