Natasha Bowes, founder of Bio-tiful Dairy, told DairyReporter that the cultured milk drink is tapping into the growing fermentation trend.
“There is a very romantic story about how it emanates from the leather pouches of the shepherds in the Caucasus Mountains, and how it formed somehow as a combination of 40 different types of beneficial bacteria strains plus beneficial yeast,” Bowes said.
“The authentic culture, we actually bring in from Russia from the best producer there and they've been making it for centuries.”
Bowes says that kefir is a 'lot more powerful than yogurt as it contains over 40 strains of gut-friendly bacteria'.
“It's as simple and light as a dairy product gets. It's between milk and a yogurt, but it's better than both.”
She added that kefir is high in protein, calcium and zinc; is a source of B vitamins; and is good for the immune system and the metabolism.
Kefir’s many uses
“As I was growing up, a glass of kefir was a must at every nursery in Russia,” she said. “We never had a concept of a stomach bug.
“Kefir, being so light, it's easy to digest and absorb, because of the culture, and it's historically always been the main recovery food in hospitals.”
She added that it’s also a versatile product that can be used in cooking.
“The tastiest and healthiest products back home are always made with kefir.”
“We just basically have inherited this amazing nature's gift in the form of this simple but utterly functional dairy drink, and we're just spreading the word, and spreading the best possible version of it across the UK,” Bowes said.
She said kefir leads the category due to an increased awareness and acknowledgement of its many health and wellness benefits, but that it’s a product still growing in the UK.
“People in Russia, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, big parts of Asia, have been drinking it for centuries, and literally hundreds of millions of people drink it every day,” Bowes said.
She added that it is now getting bigger in the US and has moved across into the mainstream dairy aisle from health stores, where it has been present for decades.
“It's what people take to, plus in the UK and the US, people do tend to have historically, a very sweet tooth,” Bowes added.
“I was mortified how sweet dairy products were when I came to the UK. A big part of the reason why I started this project and started making this kefir is because my daughter was born.
“And I couldn't stand the thought that she would also gain addiction, practically, to sugar in her dairy products, which shouldn't be there.”
Bowes added that the number of producers in the UK are growing: reflecting that people are becoming more aware of fermented foods in general and kefir in particular.
She said that the perception of the product depends dramatically on the palate that the person has developed.
“With our listing in Boots, where we're selling the original kefir and the two smoothies, Boots are selling more of the smoothies, the fruit flavored kefir, whereas in the likes of Whole Foods, and the health food independents, we're selling much more of the original product than of the smoothies.”
The smoothies are available in Honey & Mint and Morello Cherry flavors.
Potential for the future
Bowes said that her company gets inquiries from western Europe, and the mission of the brand is to be the kefir category leader in the UK and western Europe.
“Eastern Europe is pretty well covered as far as the production of kefir is concerned,” she said.