Is Good, Good Enough?
The CEO of Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha tackles business ethics and the labeling of Consumer Packaged Goods.
As a local community, as a state, as a nation, and as a planet we’ve faced arguably some of our greatest challenges over the past few months. As consumers and brands both turn to the future, there will be a heightened awareness of where our support is being given when it comes to purchasing patterns. Consumers will be more aware of the missions behind brands and the impact their individual sales can make on both a local and national level, as purchases will serve less as transactions and more as clear signs of support.
The question remains: who will rise to this elevated consumer awareness? One industry that needs to hear that challenge: consumer packaged goods.
The number of class action filings against food and beverage companies rose 8% in 2019 to 177, according to Food Navigator-USA.com with false labeling accounting for more than 40% of these filing.
Consumers are paying attention, in other words. At Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha, we exceed government regulations in order to meet customer expectations. Why? Because ethics are good for business, good for health, and good for the environment. The basic standards for Consumer Packaged Goods are the floor for us, not the ceiling.
2019 also saw a spate of lawsuits implicating many of the leading kombucha brands and key retailers over mislabeling alcohol content. The story of kombucha in the U.S. is rife with lawsuits like this. The kombucha industry responded by hiring a lobby to petition federal legislators to raise the non-alcoholic limit from .5% to 1.5%. This strategy favors manufacturers with lax alcohol control and exposes consumers to potential risks. Our industry’s trade organization went even further and proposed a Standard of Identity (SOI) that aims to lock all kombucha manufacturing into antiquated production methodologies that have been shown to result in uncontrollable food safety outcomes.
We are disappointed in the recent announcement from KBI to push a "code of practice" upon our friends in the kombucha industry. It is true that we are in need of an organizational body or leadership that will focus on food safety, truth in labeling, and encourage producers to follow FDA & TTB guidelines rather than solely focusing on distinctions that thinly veil support to a particular player, especially when that player is a source of funding behind said organizational body.
We aim higher at Rowdy Mermaid. We prioritize the highest scientific standards in order to produce the highest quality products and the most accurate labeling. We also value the health and safety of pregnant women and those who suffer from food intolerances or alcoholism. By holding ourselves to the highest standards, we cast the widest net possible so all can enjoy the benefits of low-alcohol kombucha. We hope to catalyze a movement in food production by banding with other manufacturers and setting new standards for ourselves. We’re pushing for more-conscious efforts to use the highest quality production methods as a means for connecting with consumers.
Business ethics have been the cornerstone at Rowdy Mermaid since day one. Our passion for scientific research and health led us to reinvent a 2,000 year-old beverage for modern lifestyles. What started as a garage hobby is now a national operation producing a scientifically controlled, function-forward kombucha sold in 47 states and now online. As we grow from a regional brand to a national player, we face new challenges and new leadership opportunities. Primarily, how do we engage in mass production without alienating our consumers or cheapening product quality?
A 2019 Nielsen study showed that 48% of consumers worldwide are willing to alter purchasing habits for products that have a positive environmental impact. By 2021, it’s predicted that U.S. consumers will spend $150 billion on sustainable fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).
As founder and CEO of Rowdy Mermaid and someone who loves to work, I view my daily tasks as opportunities to improve our world. I challenge other brand leaders to hold themselves to higher ethical standards on behalf of consumers, products, and the environment. I urge business owners to commit to healthier products for consumers and to label with integrity; please use your influence, size, and power to clean up supply chains, strengthen environmental standards, and implement positive changes. Think globally, and act locally, remember? Small communities can have large-scale impact by helping change perceptions of what’s possible. It’s time to develop an internal code of ethics in the kombucha industry. Functioning alongside—while exceeding—the mandates of regulatory bodies, new ethics of production and sourcing can inspire consumers.
Mass consumption and over-consumption, on the other hand, alienate us from one another. Healthy product consumption can unite us in common priorities. At Rowdy Mermaid, we source regenerative organic ingredients, invest in alternative energy and energy efficiency, and no longer package with glass. Our aluminum cans are more recyclable and require less fossil fuels to ship (thanks to being lighter). We prioritize stringent testing of ingredients and finished products at our in-house genetics laboratory.
In our first few years of operation, Rowdy Mermaid staff and I discovered some of the “organic” ingredients we had been using were coated in toxic residue, some of which do not appear on the U.S. registry and are therefore considered “legally viable” in foodstuff. It was obvious that federal oversight for organic ingredients fell short. We also discovered inadequacies in labeling, particularly in the case of sugar and alcohol. We worked double-time to develop a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable kombucha, because we believe in something bigger than ourselves: global and personal health.
Deep ethical beliefs are revealed when a company’s environmental and social footprint is examined closely. If serving the consumer is a priority, issues like food labeling must be treated honestly. As the world changes and clean supply chains evaporate, companies are forced to make business decisions that can push ethics into a corner. We need to discuss all these challenges and adapt together. The greatest good is our good.