But now, demand for kefir drinks has begun soaring with Tesco seeing a 400% rise in the last 18 months, causing Tesco to say it looks to be one of the major food trends of 2020.
Tesco dairy drinks buyer, Vicky Smith, said, “Shoppers are really switching on to gut-health and demand for kefir is now so strong that in the last few years we have nearly doubled our range and we have plans to add more this year.
“Its popularity has been building, mainly by word of mouth, on a monthly basis to the extent that we now stock seven different drinks as well as four yogurt variants.
“The original natural variety has a slightly sour but wonderfully creamy taste. Last year in order to widen its popularity we added cherry, strawberry plus mango and turmeric flavors.”
The drink was first discovered by shepherds keeping milk in leather sacks which were open to the yeasts and bacteria in the air.
These natural cultures mixed with the milk and caused it to ferment, creating kefir, which literally means ‘feel good’ in old Turkish.
For 2,000 years kefir was a health drink secret enjoyed mainly by people in the Caucasus Mountains where it originates, and in parts of eastern Europe, where it is still extremely popular, Tesco said.
It became easier to find in the UK around 20 years ago, when Tesco began stocking it as part of its Polish food offering.
As demand took off in the last decade the supermarket brought in its first UK kefir producer, Biotiful Dairy and ranged the drinks in its regular dairy aisle. Biotiful Dairy is the top-selling brand of the now around 10 kefir manufacturers in the UK.
Last year, with gut-health becoming a major growth area, the supermarket invited the company to join its Tesco Incubator Programme, which helps innovative, entrepreneurial businesses and guide them to the specific requirements of its customers.
Other UK businesses who have benefited from joining the program are Scottish craft beer brewer Brew Dog; drinks mixer producers Fever Tree; popcorn manufacturer Propercorn and plant-based food company Bol.
Since joining the incubator scheme, Biotiful Dairy has launched into two new categories, a kids’ range and also yogurts, with further expansion set for this year.