Q + A with Jamba Dunn, Founder and CEO of Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha | By Lexi Reich

While building products for software company Rosetta Stone in 2011, Jamba Dunn started brewing beer as a hobby. The following year, his toddler daughter asked if he could make her a drink. So, Dunn made an alcohol- and caffeine-free beverage using herbs from his garden. The result: a kombucha that was much less sugary and sour than others on the market, and infused with fresh plants. She loved it. He called it Rowdy Mermaid, his nickname for her, and launched the company in 2013. 

Today, Rowdy Mermaid is a leading player in the rapidly growing kombucha market. 14.6% of the American population has tried kombucha in the last five years, but the adoption rate is vast. Since Rowdy Mermaid’s conception, the business is already in 13 states with plans to expand.

Dunn says the naturally Boulder community is an prime spot to share Rowdy Mermaid’s values of sourcing healthy, ethical, organic, local and sustainable kombucha. 

As the first caffeine-free kombucha, what was your inspiration? 

I interviewed the owners of other kombucha companies and was told there were a lot of probiotics in there that were giving my daughter energy. But I believed it was the alcohol, calories and the caffeine. I really wanted to know exactly what was happening so I hired a microbiologist, who helped found one of the biggest kombucha companies, and we worked together for all of 2012 trying to fully understand what was going on with this product. It turned out it couldn’t be done without tea, and so me and the microbiologist worked together to make the first caffeine-free, flower- and herb-based kombucha. 

Why herbs? 

I’ve always been obsessed with growing herbs and making tinctures. When my wife, Erin, and I wanted to have a child, we planted a garden to bring the idea of bounty into our lives. When our daughter was born we harvested all the herbs Erin would need for pregnancy. It has been a big part of our lives, always. 

When it came time to choosing the herbs to go in our kombucha, I hired another veteran from the kombucha industry who is an Ayurvedic herbalist and we created the first flavors. Our herbs in the beginning were from wildcrafted herbs, many from Colorado mountains. Over the years we’ve moved to brokers for herbs and working directly with small farms so we can control quality. We also received organic certification earlier this year.

What does sustainable sourcing mean to Rowdy Mermaid?

Many beverages in the U.S. are made in laboratories with no connection to the supply chain. Kombucha is one of the only industries where people are sourcing ethically. For that reason early on we set up a laboratory to test the ingredients we were purchasing to ensure the quality of the herbs and to ensure there were no pesticides. Now we are happy to say we’ve teamed up with companies with not only ethically sourced ingredients, but teas and herbs that help communities in Bangladesh with their profits.

Sustainability is also one of our core values as a company. We were just given a tax credit from Boulder for building a sustainable way to power our operations. 

It’s good to be able to make a little change in the world, right? 

It’s good to be able to make a little change in the world, right?

Do you think Colorado was a good place to start your kombucha company?

The data at the time showed it was the best place because people in Boulder spent more on health foods and self care per capita than any other place we were thinking of setting up the company. At a base level, people are starting to make different decisions regarding their health and we thought it would be interesting to try and grow the company from the center of the country out. 

What are your plans for the future?

We are going to release our product into cans which is something we’ve been working on since 2012. We are launching into new markets and conventional channels, which are geared toward a wider population. We are moving beyond the natural grocer demographic to make our kombucha more widely accessible. 

We are seeing the health industry growing rapidly. The younger audience wants sustainable, healthy, ethically-sourced products. They’re more focused not only on the planet and their community, but themselves and their bodies. It’s just not acceptable anymore to dump chemicals into your body. People are starting to understand that.

It’s just not acceptable anymore to dump chemicals into your body.

This article has been edited and condensed for clarity purposes. 

Photo courtesy of Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha.

After experiencing a yoga ashram in the mountains of Colorado, Lexi became enthralled in the practice of yoga and meditation, and just earned her yoga teacher training at the sacred space. Originally from Chicago, Lexi loves the holistic lifestyle she found in Colorado, and combining this passion with her writing is what makes her truly happy. As a journalism and English major at the University of Colorado Boulder, Lexi spends most of her time reading novels and writing for her poetry and reporting classes. Besides this, you can find her hiking or traveling. Follow her on Instagram @lexi_reich.
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