Meteoric rise

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Almost exactly ten years ago, a new beverage category arrived in Canada – and RISE Kombucha was one of the brands leading the trend. Today, kombucha, a sparkling fermented beverage, is growing in popularity and becoming big business. Studies predict that sales will triple in the next seven years.

RISE Kombucha was born in 2008 when two entrepreneurs, Mathieu Gallant and David Côté, decided to try selling a mostly unknown beverage in their vegan restaurant. In 2009, with two additional partners, Simon Bertrand and Julian Giacomelli, RISE was born. The four men share a passion for healthy living and a visionary, entrepreneurial spirit. All four founders still hold stakes in the company and two are active on the board of directors.

Shifting from manual to automatic

RISE started out selling its kombucha primarily in vegan restaurants. Even as sales exploded, operations were still entirely manual. As late as 2017, the company had 40 employees bottling the fermented tea beverage by hand. Then the decision was made to expand production capacity and automate the process. So, RISE Kombucha started looking for investors – and quickly found one. Thanks to more than 10 million Canadian dollars in growth capital, RISE Kombucha was able to build one of the most state-of-the-art kombucha production facilities in North America. The new filling line from Krones is a big piece of that.

Behaves like beer

RISE produces in 25,000-liter batches. “Good kombucha can’t be pasteurized. It has to be alive when it reaches the consumer,” explains Axel Kalbarczyk, president of RISE Kombucha. “We are one of the few producers that can accomplish this and ensure that the alcohol content stays below 0.5 percent alc/vol, which we do through a proprietary process. We keep it below 0.5 percent as the laws vary across Canada. Our kombucha has to be distributed chilled since fermentation doesn’t stop until it hits 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit).” RISE has also developed a recipe that makes its kombucha more flavor-forward instead of the vinegar-forward taste of most kombucha brews, giving it broader appeal.

According to Bottling & Sanitation Director Jocelyn Malo, kombucha behaves similarly to beer during filling. “Just the pH value is somewhat lower, at 3.0 to 3.5, and the residual sugar is a bit higher. It foams during the filling process, so you have to continually monitor pressure and CO2 content. We bottle it cold, at about two degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit),” he explains. “Cleaning and sanitization are also extremely important since it’s a live product and secondary contamination can be dangerous.”

Krones’ first kombucha project

Krones delivered the entire wet end of the new line, which is designed to handle 21,000 bottles per hour. RISE was one of Krones’ first kombucha customers – but the broad House of Krones portfolio made it possible to quickly find a suitable solution for filling.

  • An Autocol labeler is installed upstream of the filler and applies self-adhesive labels to the empty bottles since condensation on the cold-filled bottles would make later labeling difficult.
  • RISE got a 55-valve Modulfill HRS short-tube filler, a glass bottle filler with a vent tube and mechanical filling system that has proven itself on the global beer market. Essential to safe bottling of kombucha are the facts that the process ensures low-oxygen filling and the filler is designed hygienically, for instance with self-draining surfaces.
  • The Modulfill HRS is linked in a bloc with a Moduljet rinser, which cleans the new glass bottles prior to filling. A Checkmat FM-X checks the fill level.
  • The entire bloc is housed in a cleanroom to keep the filling process separate from the rest of the production environment and thus further improve hygiene.

The line fills the different kombucha varieties into 414-milliliter and 1-liter glass bottles, whose cylindrical form and minimalistic label design make them easily recognizable.

Although RISE Kombucha has already taken efficiency to the next level by moving from manual to automatic filling, increasing efficiency even further was a top priority for Jocelyn Malo. Therefore, staff were given intensive training to ensure that each of the four operators per shift could handle every machine. The effect is clear at changeovers: “We are averaging around 90 percent efficiency on the 1-liter bottle,” Malo explains. The line currently runs one day shift five days a week and is cleaned each night. Meanwhile, the kombucha brewers work seven days a week to produce the fermented beverage.

Good reasons to choose Krones

Axel Kalbarczyk explains why RISE Kombucha chose Krones for its first foray into automation: “Krones came recommended by our consultancy. We didn’t have any real experience with that sort of machinery ourselves. I wanted to be sure that it didn’t become a weak link in our process. It wasn’t cheap, and there was a lot of time pressure, but we got a good deal with Krones.” The fact that Krones has quite a number of technicians in Canada, most of whom have many years of experience, was another important factor. “The machines have to run. So good, effective service is essential. So far, we haven’t been disappointed,” says Kalbarczyk.

As Canada’s leading kombucha brand, RISE is the only Canadian producer to serve the entire country. Canada’s kombucha market is still experiencing double-digit growth, and RISE feels it’s well equipped for the future. “The new facility gives us everything we need to keep growing. The Krones line is the key. Investing in it was a good decision,” says Kalbarczyk. “With it, we can expand our current operating capacity three times over simply by adding shifts.” Even if, at some point, the kombucha trend eventually becomes a mature beverage category, “RISE will continue to innovate, step up our marketing, and maybe even start exporting. Whatever we do, we’ll always focus exclusively on better-for-you beverages,” says the company’s ambitious president.

A new twist on an age-old tea beverage

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage thought to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. Brewing it starts with the kombucha culture, which is called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). RISE Kombucha likes to refer to their SCOBY as “mother.” This mother is a yellowish-brown gelatinous pancake whose yeasts metabolize freshly brewed, sweetened tea into alcohol and carbon dioxide (carbonation) through oxidation. The bacteria then convert the alcohol into organic acids, which give the drink its signature tart-sweet flavor. Kombucha generally contains up to five grams of sugar and between 0.5 and 2.0 percent alc/vol.

RISE Kombucha is committed to using only fresh, organic ingredients. That includes everything from the teas (herbal, green, and black), the sugar, and the flavorings (e.g. ginger, rosemary, elderflower, lychee, and jasmine). RISE currently offers eight different flavor varieties plus two seasonal brews. In spring 2020, RISE launched a new product line called 1g, which contains just one gram of sugar per serving. 1g comes in four flavors. RISE is continually refreshing its portfolio.

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