Justin Medcraft’s nine years in management roles at alcohol giants Diageo and Pabst Brewing gave him valuable insight into the consumer and geographic dynamics of the U.S. alcohol space.
It drove him to co-found a beverage company in the better-for-you category called Mate Maker with the help of some friends — including a leader in the electronic dance music industry. The beverage upstart is testing the market in the West Coast with a line of better-for-you beverages.
Mate Maker produces hard kombucha products containing 6% alcohol by volume. It is available in three flavors: Mango Peach Smash, Blood Orange POG and Pineapple Sundream.
The story of Mate Maker began with a group of friends from Sydney, Australia — including Medcraft, Tom Appleton, Danny Robson and members of Grammy-winning alternative dance band Rüfüs Du Sol — who wanted to create an alcohol brand that promotes moderation.
“The days of the Rolling Stones drinking Jack Daniels onstage are gone,” Medcraft said, emphasizing that the brand wants to promote mindful consumption. “Being your most creative self is hard if you’re treating your body badly.”
The drinks are brewed with green tea, real fruits and botanicals, according to the brand. It debuted exclusively in San Diego this summer, with plans to eventually scale nationally, but not before the brand can first master the state with the largest economy in the U.S., Medcraft told Food Dive in an interview.
The fermented tea space has grown significantly as consumers shift away from sugary soft drinks. The growth has attracted the interest Coca-Cola, which invested $20 million in Health-Ade four years ago. The kombucha category is projected to be worth $2.64 billion by 2030, posting growth at a compound annual growth rate of 15.6% according to Grand View Research.
Aimed at consumers looking for a light alternative to hard seltzer, Medcraft said crafting an appealing flavor profile was the company’s top priority. It wanted to avoid a vinegary flavor, opting for a more soft, fruity taste.
Mate Maker is focused on California because its consumers are currently more likely to try alcoholic kombucha, something the company expects will change as more unique offerings enter the space.
“It’s still unproven as a national product,” Medcraft said. “If you think about the middle of the country, hard kombucha isn’t even on the radar there.”
Shooting for craft success
Medcraft said his time at Diageo clued him into the macro trends in the alcohol space. These include the growing curiosity young consumers approach beverages with and the increasing desire for better-for-you options.
Mate Maker is confident about the prospect of hard kombucha because consumers are willing to try multiple kinds of alcohol. Previous generations typically stuck to one or two beer products. Medcraft said it’s a great time for innovative brands to enter the market.
“There’s now so many different products that meet different occasions, and if you go to a barbecue, you’ll see so many different things in a cooler,” Medcraft said. “It allows us to remain incredibly focused on the occasion and market that we want to win in.”
But the company is cautious about expanding too quickly.
Medcraft believes launching in California will allow him to test the waters in the state with the largest singular economy before expanding nationally. He said his time at Pabst opened his eyes to the differences in consumer preferences across the U.S. Trends in the East Coast and Midwest tend to catch on later.
“We approach markets like California as a country,” Medcraft said. “We’re focused on continuing to go deep in California, launching a few innovative products in this region, and then reassess what we think the opportunities are in some other states.”
The company doesn’t plan to partner with a bigger firm in the alcohol space. Medcraft said Mate Maker is focused on becoming a leader in the craft category as consumers familiarize themselves with the prospect of drinking hard kombucha.
As it looks toward R&D opportunities beyond hard kombucha, Mate Maker’s next products will involve fruit-based spirits. According to Medcraft, the brand was inspired by craft beer and hard seltzer brand High Noon, which brought real fruit juice spirits to their respective categories.
“If you think about what elevated and scaled craft beer, it was hazy IPA. That whole category was able to open up because people were able to try something that was really fruit-flavor forward,” Medcraft said. “We’d like to double down on that.”