Tonica Beverages Ltd.

Naturally refreshing, raw, organic kombucha made in Toronto
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Forrest Lancaster

Tonica Beverages Ltd., based in Toronto and known as the maker of the Tonica Kombucha brand, is harnessing the healing and health powers of raw, organic kombucha by bottling and serving it in an array of nutritious and uplifting beverages. The company now offers eight flavours of kombucha – blueberry, ginger, green tea, peach, mango, original, jasmine and coffee – all 100 percent natural and organic as well as GMO, additive and allergen free. Consumers across Canada and now Chicago can find Tonica’s kombucha beverages in most natural and health product retailers, including Whole Foods and smaller grocers, cafes and health and fitness studios.

While the fermented beverage has ancient origins, the kombucha movement has really come to life and gained popularity in the last several years. “Kombucha is a living fermented beverage, which hasn’t been pasteurized, so all of the healthy bacteria remain and help to digest undigested foods,” explains Zoey Shamai, founder of Tonica. “We’ve also conducted studies that show our kombucha is high in gluconic acid, which binds to compacted debris in the liver and allows it to become more water soluble, aiding in flushing toxins.”

TONICA Beverages Ltd.

Kombucha is also a revitalizing alternative to conventional soda, with less sugar, more healthy enzymes and no artificial chemicals or preservatives. “Using all natural  certified organic infusions, we brew a great tasting live kombucha beverage, lightly cultured and naturally sparkling – so that our consumers can enjoy our flavours while benefiting from our brew just like those monks who  first consumed kombucha in 221 B.C.,” says Shamai.

Brewing up an idea

The Tonica tale begins in New Mexico where Shamai was living and studying at a yoga centre. “I came across many friends making and drinking kombucha at the yoga ashram,” she recounts. “At first, I wasn’t a fan of the smell or flavour, but after trying it, I was amazed at how it helped my digestion and increased my energy levels, so I continued to brew my own kombucha and when I returned home to Toronto I continued to brew it and share it with my yoga students.”

Her home brew quickly caught on and pretty soon, students, friends and neighbors were asking for more of the fermented beverage. “I started bottling it in liters and eventually, I quit my day job,” she says. “I started the company under the label ‘Fairy’s Tonic,’ including a caricature picture of myself. Word spread about this sparkling beverage I was making and how great it could make you feel. It was the best modern tonic many of us had come across.”

“Fairy’s Tonic rebranded to Tonica and officially incorporated in January 2011,” continues Shamai. “From 2008 to 2011 we experienced steady growth, but from 2011 and on, sales have skyrocketed.”

In 2012, Looking for the means to really get Tonica off the ground, Shamai took her idea onto the TV show The Dragon’s Den, where entrepreneurs across Canada pitch their product ideas to a panel of wealthy investors.

“Kevin O’Leary and Jim Treleving bought into my company on the show and we got a ton of fabulous exposure and opportunity,” recounts Shamai.

Comfortable with kombucha

When business first started brewing for Tonica, kombucha was relatively new in the market, although the recipe has been used in cultures for centuries. “Since inception, our goal has really been to help make consumers more comfortable with kombucha and the idea of a fermented beverage with living cultures and bacteria,” explains Shamai. “We want to deliver the product to a broader consumer base, not just the health-foodie niche.”

But in recent years, the product has gained widespread popularity. “With more consumers educated on the basics of kombucha, we decided it was time to clean up our labels,” says Shamai. “The redesigned labels are much more sleek and clean, with less wording.”

The company is also rolling out new flavors. “The most recently launched is our coffee flavor,” notes Shamai. “It’s made with organic cacao beans and rooibos with a natural coffee flavoring.”

With newly rebranded, cleaner labels and a recently renovated 5,000-square-foot brewery in Toronto, business continues to soar for Tonica and the company has landed a major expansion deal with Whole Foods in Chicago. “At first, Tonica was only on the shelves in mom-and-pop stores, but we’ve steadily gained ground in larger retailers,” says Shamai. “We now distribute all across Canada, all the way to Vancouver and now we’re entering the upper Midwest in Chicago. I see plenty of expansion in the future ahead, but we’re taking it one step at a time, ensuring our production can keep up with the demand.”

A pure promise

Even as Tonica expands, Shamai says the company keeps product quality and purity at the forefront. “We continue to use my original formula as the base recipe for all of our production without compromising the process by using artificial carbonation or false forms of fermentation,” adds Shamai. “Our dedication to making the most pure, natural, organic raw kombucha on the market certainly sets Tonica apart.”

Unlike some super foods that seem to come and go, fading in and out of the spotlight, Shamai says kombucha is not a fad, but is here to stay. From its beginnings in her small apartment kitchen, to present day in coolers across Canada and now the U.S., Tonica Beverages Ltd. is brewing up success in a healthy fashion, one pure batch of raw kombucha at a time.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Consolidated Bottle Corp.