Under the Grill: David Begg, founder of Real Kombucha

1. Tell us about your business and/or current role?

I founded and run The Real Brewing Company, the brewer of Real Kombucha, the UK’s leading kombucha brand. I am pretty broadly spread across all parts of the business, but I guess my core focuses are brewing and branding.

Having started brewing kombucha on the kitchen counter some years ago – developing the range in partnership with one of my partners, Adrian, and designing and developing our first scale brewery in Wendover, Buckinghamshire – I am still pretty hands on in the process. I now work with a great brewing technician, Oleg, to do much of the day-to-day brewing, but I am still in charge of all technical, product and engineering development.

But the Real Kombucha brand is very close to my heart and really key to the success of the company. I work closely with a fantastic graphic designer, Paul, who developed our brand identity and continues to drive most of the brand elements.

And I spend a lot of time on the road, working with our customers, particularly in some of the larger restaurants, hotels and pub chains.


  1. Most rewarding or favourite moment in your career so far?

That’s a really tough one. I have had a very varied career – as an engineer in the early days, then as a consultant, then co-founder of some great companies such as Active Hotels, Tom Dixon, Clippings.com. I think it is the variety of opportunities that I have had that is so special and that has kept me energised.

Within Real Kombucha there are two clear defining moments: sitting across the table and tasting our first brew of a First Flush Darjeeling tea that became our Royal Flush. The flavour was spot on and really quite a revaluation at the time. The other moment was meeting Melania, the Sommelier at the Fat Duck, in late 2017. She gave us the confidence to really believe in the quality of our product.


  1. Can you tell us about any major projects that you’re working on right now?

We will shortly be announcing two partnerships. To date we have been working primarily with very top-end restaurants, hotels and bars across the country but we have an exciting opportunity to gain visibility across a much broader customer base, which we will be announcing soon.

Kombucha is a relatively new product in the UK market and we are unique with a focus on the on-trade as a non-alcoholic replacement for prosecco, sparkling wines and champagne. That gives us an enormous opportunity to change the way consumers are drinking but also gives us substantial challenges.


  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Food & Drink Industry at the moment?

There are a series of conflicting and contrasting challenges in the industry currently. I can speak mainly to those facing drinks businesses, but some of the same are relevant to the food industry as well.

Alcohol consumption is collapsing, particularly among the young. National statistics now show that almost 30% of young adults are now professed tee-total and this number continues to rise fast. But this tells only part of the story as there is a much larger part of the population that are looking for alternatives to alcohol on a typical night out.

At the same time, sugar has become Dr Evil No 1 making the search for flavour really challenging. Most drinks on the market to date (apart from water of course) have either used alcohol or sugar as the major driver of mouthfeel and flavour. Without either of these it becomes much harder to create an interesting beverage. We put our incredible success over the past 12 months down to the fact that kombucha, with its flavour profile driven by fermentation and acidity is one of the few drinks that successfully bridges this gap.

Quality and flavour is king. No longer can food and drinks businesses get away with providing watery beer, soft drinks that are ostensibly sugar and fluffy bread filled with sugar and salt to make it palatable. This can be seen by the massive growth in craft beers, having a detrimental impact upon many of the traditional scale brewers. Discerning consumers are trading up in quality, even if it means reducing quantity.

Consumers are also rightly demanding an understanding of the quality of ingredients, their source and traceability, as well as the production methods involved in all the food and drink they put in their bodies. Once upon a time we would buy our food from a shop in the village supplied by farmers within a 10 mile radius. We now ship produce and product around the world, so we need a way to be sure by the time it enters our bodies it is doing us good not harm.


  1. What will be the most exciting opportunities and/or developments in the UK Food & Drink Industry in the next few years?

Again, I can talk mainly for the drinks industry.

I think there is going to be a massive change driven by the main trends I talked about above. Alcohol is no longer going to be the prime driver of all social occasions. Where the vegetarian option was once the afterthought at the bottom of the menu, now I will often be halfway through my main dish before I realise that I have ordered a vegetarian or now a vegan dish. As meat is no longer a necessary component of every savoury dish, so will alcohol be a choice rather than a necessity in our adult drinks choices.

I expect restaurant and bar menus to list a whole great range of drinks from full alcohol, to low ABV to non-alcoholic serves. Alcohol will be noted almost as a health warning, just like having three chillis on a dish says beware. But that range will not be full of sugary kids-focused soft drinks, but proper adult serves that just happen to be non-alcoholic.

But it is choice, not abstinence, that the Modern British Drinker is looking for. There are plenty of occasions that call for a really good session, but others where you just don’t want to drink alcohol at all. But more times you will find yourself flitting back and forth between a great craft beer, a beautifully crafted kombucha and that stunning single malt to end the day. The difference is you will still be able to appreciate the flavour of that Islay at the end of the evening.


  1. Finally, what’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

That’s a pretty hard one as I have had some amazing food in restaurants all over the place.

But I would probably have to choose a small restaurant in the Casas Colgadas in Cuenca in Spain. It was the first time I tried Dorada al Sal, or sea bream baked in a crust of sea salt. The simplicity of the dish, beautifully cooked and totally moist with the delicate flavours of salt infusing the flesh of the fish was quite a revelation. Opened at the table and served with a side of crunchy asparagus. And this was clearly helped by the breathtaking views across the Spanish plains.


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