Beverages, but with benefits.
VANCOUVER, BC / ACCESSWIRE / November 3, 2020 / Patrick Whitner and Rany Bochi, founders of Sunny Culture, have spent the past five years creating their business to provide just that - beneficial beverages in the form of water kefir.
But… what is water kefir?
Water kefir, as defined by the Sunny Culture crew, is a "light, probiotic beverage made with live water kefir culture." Or, in the words of founder Rany, "It's more of a soft champagne-esque bubbly beverage - without the booze."
The probiotic packed beverage supports gut health and boosts immunity while providing a delicious consumption experience. With four flavors of Probiotic Water Kefir available and three flavors of the concentrated Probiotic Shot, Sunny Culture is providing a variety of ways for us to treat our bodies a little better in just a few sips a day.
Sunny Culture founders Rany Bochi and Patrick Whitner
To further understand what water kefir is, let's take a look at what it is not. Water kefir is not a dairy product, despite the use of the word "kefir." Though the dairy industry has put up a hard fight to reserve the term "kefir" for themselves, it is not specific to dairy. Kefir refers to the process of adding kefir grains to a liquid base which then results in a live yeast and lactic acid reaction, producing beneficial probiotics that improve gut health. Thus, the lactose-free squad can feel free to continue reading, you're safe here. Secondly, water kefir is not the same thing as kombucha, it does not have the same vinegar-bite often found in kombucha, and is easier to digest with less bloating. Lastly, unlike Kombucha, water kefir is not fermented with tea so it's a caffeine-free beverage choice.
The founders of Sunny Culture can be described similarly to their beverages, effervescent and full of life. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with them and got to learn about how the duo took a passion-project that began in Rany's kitchen five years ago and scaled it to sit within the coolers of Whole Foods across Florida:
Did you two (Patrick and Rany) know each other before Sunny Culture began? Or did you come together at the start of the business?
Patrick and Rany as roommates at IMG Academy
Rany - "We met as roommates in boarding school when we were 12 years old, I came from Spain (born in Texas but grew up in Spain) and Patrick came from San Francisco - and despite what Patrick might tell you, he did not teach me English! The school, IMG Academy, was in Florida, and we were both there for tennis. We grew up training next to tennis legends like Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, so there were definitely aspirations of playing professionally, but it was also more like a first career than a childhood..."
Patrick - "It was… memorable. We would wake up at 4:00 am and be running drills first thing. We got whipped into gear pretty quick."
Rany - "What we did learn from that experience was discipline, how to never give up, and how to finish strong. Even when we'd be at our absolute threshold, we learned to still give it our all. Those lessons will always be embedded in my mind."
Is tennis still something that's a part of either of your lives?
Rany - "I stopped playing tennis in college and switched to rugby - a sport I could actually be good at! Patrick plays a little more than me today but for both of us I'd say our biggest takeaway from the experience was the lessons we learned. It also laid the groundwork for our value of health, wellness, and nutrition, which we take into both our daily practices and our work with Sunny Culture."
When did the idea for Sunny Culture formulate?
Rany - "After college, Patrick was in LA for a few years, and I traveled around for a bit before ending up in New Jersey. We both moved back to Florida around the same time following some medical issues with both our families. Before that, we'd talk and stuff, but once we were both living back in the same city we were able to hang out every day again. At the time, Patrick was working in commercial real estate with his family and I was in chiropractic school, but we both knew we wanted to create something more that could provide lasting value. Originally, we began looking at farms but then thought to ourselves, ‘Oh that's too much work!' so we went into something even more competitive… the beverage industry! I discovered the cultures that later created Sunny the year before I began chiropractic school, and was tinkering with it here and there. Patrick was my guinea pig, and every night he'd come over and try my little jar of water kefir. The first year was really an experiment."
Patrick - "I have to give credit to Rany here, the man is really a magician in the kitchen. Even before we began messing around with water kefir, he was always in the kitchen experimenting with new creations… he'd never follow a recipe, but would just put on his bandana and wield his favorite veggie cutting knife, he's an absolute hoot to watch cook. But to answer your question, our Sunny Culture journey officially began in 2015, and at that time it was just a little mason jar in the kitchen. We started learning more about the body and what probiotics could do for you, and once we realized that we could create a beverage that was both good for you AND good tasting, we realized we had come up with a great idea."
Patrick and Rany at a night market at the very beginning of their journey
Why water kefir?
Rany - "We knew we wanted to help people in some way, but we didn't quite know what that would be. When we discovered that we could make our fermented kefir water taste delicious, we knew it was the perfect solution. Everyone eats and everyone drinks, it's something that people don't forget to do, unlike taking their vitamins and exercising. Our discovery provides beneficial probiotics through the effortless task of drinking a beverage - it was the simplest way for us to provide a positive health product for others."
Patrick - "For us, it really started with reprogramming what we were taught about nutrition from a young age - that it must come from animal byproducts. We wanted to share with people that there are alternative sources of nutrients that are often much better for you. I think for both of us, there was an acceleration in the urgency of our search given that the traditional methods were not working for the health of our families. We were both seeking alternative solutions - so we came back to whole ingredients and the natural process of fermentation which led to the discovery of water kefir."
A glass of Sunny Culture Hibiscus water kefir poured fresh from the keg
When did Sunny Culture shift from being a side hustle to a full-time commitment?
Patrick - "After about two years of perfecting, we kegged it and infused it with organic hibiscus flowers. It was 10:30 at night and Rany was chatting away while we poured the first taster of our little experiment, but when we tasted it we both looked at each other and… fireworks. At the time, Rany was still in chiropractic school and I was in the middle of a real estate deal, and we thought to ourselves… BEVERAGE BUSINESS?!? Is this viable??"
Rany - "At that point, we had all this culture, and it tasted good. I was sharing it with my family and friends and they all loved it, so we wanted to share it with more people. Both Patrick and I knew we always wanted to go into something entrepreneurial, which I originally thought I would find through opening my own chiropractic practice, but I eventually ended up dropping that in pursuit of turning Sunny Culture into the real deal."
What benefits have you personally discovered from consuming water kefir?
Rany - "I used to have really bad acid reflux and it has since disappeared - I'm not saying that our product was the cure, but we're always saying that we're one step toward the big solution. At the same time, it was a way of reprogramming our bodies to take us to the next level."
Patrick - "For me, it was about mood, energy, and sleep. I used to be a three cups of coffee a day kind of person, and with Sunny, I've been able to introduce a beverage alternative into my routine that doesn't negatively impact my sleeping patterns. I get to show up as that brighter version of myself, and for everyone, we can contribute more when our cup is full. As for mood, pre-sunny I was often bloated due to poor gut health. I wasn't able to encounter the day with the same energy as I'd often feel uncomfortable from the bloating and would revert internally. Since adding water kefir to my diet, I've never felt better digestion and more natural energy."
A post from @sunnyculture showing the fermentation process behind the live culture kefir water
Where did the name Sunny Culture come from and what is the company's mission?
Rany - "The reason why we called it Sunny Culture was because, not only are we going to leave you better off than you were, but we're also going to create a sunnier version of yourself resulting from the probiotics, or from drinking something refreshing that you know is going to be good for you."
Patrick - "One of the most important things for us is establishing the narrative and asking, ‘How is this driving us?' If we were just putting another soda on the shelf, how would we be different? But we're not just another soda company, we're showing people a better way. What we really love and appreciate about our business is that it provides consumers with access to better products, allowing people to take better care of themselves through introducing a regular dose of probiotics into their daily routine. We get to share with a growing audience that one small change in their daily routine can make a huge difference in their life."
So, after your years of R&D, what steps did you take to move Sunny Culture out of Rany's kitchen and into consumer homes?
Patrick - "During the fall of 2017, we both put $5000 into a bank account, and we were at a coffee shop looking at legalzoom.com thinking, ‘Oh, we're going to start a business!' So we decided to make some big moves. We built a bar and signed a 6 month lease in a commercial kitchen. With the few shekels we put away starting to dry up, we realized that we needed to make some money to continue our operation. We thought farmers markets would be the solution to generate some revenue and also get some consumer feedback in the process. At the time, we really had no idea just how lucrative a spot in a farmers market was - the first step required us to get a proper business license."
Rany - "We couldn't even get a meeting to get licensed by the state because they really had no way of determining if what we were doing was being done the right way. Ultimately, we set the precedents for how to create water kefir in the state of Florida. It was a new concept that they couldn't wrap their heads around, and they kept saying, ‘This is not wine, it's not beer, it's not kombucha… What are you guys trying to do? Don't hurt anyone!' At this point we realized that we definitely had to overcome an educational hurdle - we had to learn everything we could about our product because we weren't just educating our customers, we were educating the health board."
Patrick - "We were dealing with bureaucracy, and it's hard to be innovative with bureaucracy. But we played the game. We went through all the right channels, we set up all the proper appointments, and we were eventually treated as if we were a multi-million dollar company based on the level of scrutiny that we were met with."
Founders Rany and Patrick selling their first pallet of Sunny Culture, until this point they'd only sold it by the case
Despite these initial hurdles, you eventually had a business license, a registered production facility, and a quality product. What were your next steps?
Rany - "After overcoming our initial trials and tribulations, we were 6-months in and had gone through all of our budget. Finally, we got a call two or three days before the 4th of July and one of the biggest farmers markets in Tampa Bay said there was a dropout and a spot available if we'd like … to which we replied, ‘OH YEAH!'"
Patrick - "We went to Walmart and bought the cups right away - at that time we didn't even have cups. We also didn't have a credit card reader so we could only accept cash. I even had a friend of mine come out in the middle of the night the day before to teach us how to strap a bar onto a trailer."
Rany - "It was our first-ever farmers market, and we killed it - we sold out. We always looked at it as having a good time while educating consumers as opposed to ‘selling.' After this, we kept getting more farmers market gigs, but we also became the ‘Modern Day Milk Men' which is a title we earned from dropping off fresh growlers at peoples houses and picking up old ones. We actually got quite a big name for ourselves by doing that, and did that up until we just couldn't handle the volume anymore."
Patrick - "Now we're at a point where we've opened up our own manufacturing plant and have expanded our team so that there are a few more bodies behind the operation than just Rany, myself, and the helpful ‘volunteers' we recruited (which often consisted of Rany's family members).
Rany - "We're a small team… we need all the help we can get!"
Patrick and Rany at one of their first Farmers Market on July 4th, 2017
While I was doing my "background research" on you guys (aka scrolling through your Instagram feeds), I noticed you both were frequently wearing giant yellow suits in many of your posts, I would love to know what that's about!
Rany - "Ahh, our sun suits! Well, pre-COVID, we were super heavy on setting up our stand at events, farmers markets, and grocery stores including Whole Foods who regularly carries Sunny Culture, and while we'd be handing out samples, Patrick and I would both be wearing our sun suits. Essentially, our sun suits are these massive yellow outfits shaped like the sun, and we LOVE wearing them. Some people love them, others can't take us seriously when wearing our suits, regardless, it's much easier to come up and chat with someone if they're wearing a giant yellow suit, I like to think it makes us more approachable. They're also fun, we'd have kids at Whole Foods running around yelling Mr. Sunshine, and they've really become a part of our company culture - our Sunny Culture.
Patrick - "One of our three pillars is joy - wellness, quality, and joy - for us, it's the idea that the world is so serious, and we want you to take one second for yourself and smile. When we're in sun suits, we're in character, and we've had so many people tell us that we've made their day. We love getting to spread joy through the simple act of wearing something fun."
Patrick and Rany ft. their sun suits
Where do you see Sunny Culture going in the future?
Patrick - "We're currently focused on boosting our online presence across America. Our eCommerce platform allows nation-wide shipping to 48 states (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) of our probiotic shots, and bottled water kefir is available for online order with curbside pickup. Expanding our retail reach nation-wide will be a process that will take longer, but at the moment we're expanding geographically, both regionally and throughout the East Coast."
Rany - "In terms of expansion, we're always assessing where we are and what retailers are looking for. We believe that in the future, not only are you going to have water kefir and Sunny Culture in all kombucha categories, but you're going to see water kefir disrupting the beverage industry by being a functional, healthy, and delicious alternative for soda, sparkling water, and seltzer drinkers. Inclusive wellness is a huge thing for us, and we believe our products will appeal to a wider customer base within the coming years.
Sunny Culture Product Page found on their website
SOURCE: Mindful Media Inc.
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