Growing Small Businesses Globally - Summer Abbott, owner of Oregon Kombucha Co.

When kombucha gained popularity in Portland in 2009, Summer Abbot knew she had to get in on it.

“People were hooked,” she said. “Kombucha’s this product that people love and they feel really great about drinking it. There’s the perception of good health.”

Kombucha is a fermented, sweetened tea that brought in $1.5 billion globally in 2017. That market is expected to grow by nearly 20 percent over the next five years as health-conscious consumers increasingly seek probiotic foods like kombucha, kimchi and kefir for purported digestion benefits.

Abbott got in on the kombucha craze early: She started Oregon Kombucha in 2009, selling her line of fermented tea in bulk to cafes. 

But then an idea struck. What if she helped others make their own kombucha at home, she thought. So Abbott developed DIY kombucha kits, complete with tea and a SCOBY, or bacteria and yeast starter.

She sold the kits and her bottled kombucha at the Portland Farmers Market, but before she knew it, one of her suppliers, a distributor in town, offered to sell the kits to grocery stores in Portland and Seattle.

From there, Abbott started cold-calling grocery stores in the Portland region, branching out to markets in Washington and California as interest in kombucha spread. Now Abbott sells her kombucha kits in grocery stores in roughly 35 states. Much of that business is direct, rather than through a distributor.

“We’re doing well on the West Coast, so it’s a natural extension to want to sell to the west coast of Canada,” she said.

Then Abbott hopes to break into the East Coast market of the U.S. and Canada.  

When a friend recommended Greater Portland Inc’s export assistance program, Growing Small Businesses Globally, Abbott was intrigued.

“When I saw that GPI was offering to connect me with technical and business assistance, I said, ‘That’s what I really want. I want advice and I want assistance.’ I had been envisioning starting to go to trade shows, and I needed financial assistance to go to those shows, so this fit in with my own agenda really well.”

Growing Small Businesses Globally gave Abbott the opportunity to go to Natural Products Expo West, the largest natural products show in the world. Tickets to the event cost hundreds of dollars, and Abbott wouldn’t have been able to go without the scholarship from GPI.

At the expo, she connected with two major distributors who distribute to Canada.

Abbott appreciates the practical advice she’s gotten, and says her advisors are connecting her to a host of helpful people, including some who work with international regulations and one who may help her distribute her kits in Japan.

These connections are crucial, she said, and she wouldn’t have met them without GPI.

“What I’ve found is that all these complicated issues ­– like legal or regulatory requirements – either they’re really simple, or we have a team of experts who have spent their careers working with these complicated issues,” she said. “All the assistance has just cut through the red tape that had been there in my mind.”

Abbott is confident in her business prowess, but the export assistance program gave her the extra support she needed.

“I have a solid product, and I’ve been manufacturing for a long time,” she said. “I know what I’m doing. What I need is help getting that out there to the world.”

Lloyd Purdy, Vice President of Competitiveness at Greater Portland Inc, praised Abbott for taking advantage of all the program had to offer. “Summer really jumped in and made some great connections,” Purdy said. “Those relationships will pay off as she grows her business internationally.”

Upon completion of each training, counseling and advising session, Growing Small Businesses Globally entrepreneurs like Abbott also receive a contribution to a travel fund to help cover the cost of their first international sales experience. Success in international sales requires a plan. The goal of this program is to prepare entrepreneurs for international sales in advance of their first international deal.

Greater Portland Inc is working with the region’s export partners — including the U.S. Commercial Service, the Small Business Administration, the Small Business Development Center and Business Oregon — to deliver the essential education business owners need before they embark upon their first international sales experience.

Through an export advising passport, created for this program, each participating entrepreneur advances through a self-guided curriculum using this array of export advising services to prepare for international sales.