Lonjevitea Kombucha, Petaluma
Michaela Biaggi and Mollie Sitkin are enough to restore anyone’s faith in business partnerships. The duo met while attending a Green MBA program at Dominican University and they are both passionate about business and kombucha – a fermented tea beverage, which they made at home to fuel their busy lifestyles. After writing a business plan for a kombucha beverage company in a business planning class, Biaggi and Sitkin realized that the product was not only viable, but something they both had an interest in pursuing.
As a product, kombucha had already been established in health stores as a nourishing probiotic beverage. What Biaggi and Sitkin sought to do was to create a great tasting kombucha – better than anything on the market. They experimented with handcrafted batches and flavor infusions – what would become their Lonjevitea Kombucha product line. Says Sitkin, “we knew we were doing things right when people would take a drink of our beverage and say, ‘wow, this is kombucha?’”
The biggest challenge the partners faced, however, was simply launching a product in which they had no formal experience. Beverages are a notoriously difficult product to launch, especially with the issues of shelf space, distribution and cost of production. The details went beyond anything they’d experienced: how to price the product, contact and evaluate distributors, and plan new product marketing and public relations – all within a tight budget.
Working with Business Advisor Cathy Balach, Biaggi and Sitkin worked over the months to navigate the modest startup. Lonjevitea Kombucha was launched within a year of the graduate school class that spurred the idea, offering three handcrafted flavors of the sparkling beverage: Gravenstein Apple, Ginger, and Chamomile.
Even in a tough economy, private funding was lined up quickly thanks to the winning flavor and thorough business plan. The partners secured a Petaluma location to produce the product and finalized product design, received label approval, and mastered the operational aspect of creating and shipping the products.
"Cathy was critical to helping us see the big picture," says Biaggi. "If it weren’t for the strategic planning, we wouldn’t have been able to move so swiftly and be so successful."
According to Balach, “I worked with Michaela and Mollie to plan the critical aspects of the product launch. For example, we determined the initial accounts where Lonjevitea should be sold, and the partners contacted them all. Within a couple of months, they had all the accounts they targeted.” Lonjevitea is now available at Bay Area Whole Foods and in over 20 other Bay Area markets.
Biaggi and Sitkin’s next goal is to introduce kombucha to a wider audience – beyond health stores. “We’ve counted on Cathy and the SBDC to get our product off the ground,” says Biaggi. “We hope for the continued support to continue to grow it from the fledgling company to a model Sonoma business.”
For more details about Lonjevitea Kombucha, see http://www.lonjeviteakombucha.com/
Business: Lonjevitea Kombucha
Owners: Michaela Biaggi & Mollie Sitkin
Address: PO Box 933, Petaluma, CA 94953-0933
Consultant: Cathy Balach
SBDC Center Name: Santa Rosa