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Students from MU make business with kombucha

For two years, Michal Ďuriník and František Špás, friends who met at the Faculty of Economics and Administration of Masaryk University, have been producing kombucha, a drink beneficial to human health. They were led to their successful business by chance.

Michal Ďuriník (on the left) and František Špás produce kombucha.

Michal Ďuriník, who studied a PhD programme in Australia, has been aware of kombucha since he was a child. “There has always been this strange thing sitting on our kitchen counter. But in Australia, it’s a common drink that is available in cafés and shops and people drink it on a daily basis,” said Michal about his experience.

In a business course at the Faculty, he met František Špás, who was toying with the idea of producing kombucha at that time. “Michal knew it from Australia, while I knew it from here. We knew what health benefits it had. And we wanted to be able to get it in a café instead of water, lemonade or cola. So our kombucha is one product with two stories behind it,” said František, smiling. He is currently studying business management in a Master’s degree programme.

They were walking around Brno in the evening and wanted to get something non-alcoholic to drink in a bar. But they didn’t want a sweet lemonade or water, which starts boring you after two or three glasses. “I often stayed at home because of that and I was sorry because I had nothing to drink and I couldn’t be with my friends. So finally, František and I came up with a drink that brings people together socially and also puts them together health-wise,” Michal recalled.

With a slight hyperbole, he says that they started an international company back then because he returned to Australia right after the course, while Špás stayed in Brno. “František brewed the first prototypes of this ancient fermented drink at home in his kitchen,” Ďuriník explained, adding that the initial investment came from their own pocket. An investor entered the company after about a year.

For two years, students from Faculty of Economics and Administration of Masaryk University, have been producing kombucha.

The business then moved to new premises every six months or so as it grew. “I was brewing kombucha at home and selling it to my friends and we watched how it was moving on the market. Then we rented 260 square metres of floor space just outside of Brno, which we then equipped and put into operation. In the end, about 15 people were involved in the production, brewing the teas, bottling and labelling them. It was a manufactory of sorts. Over the next six months, we realised we wanted a slightly wider range of kombucha products and came up with a solution in the form of a combined operation,” said Špás.

They produce kombucha drinks themselves, and when they need to bottle the product, a partner brewery steps in. In addition to the original kombucha, they now produce a ginger special and a drink made from Yerba Mate. They also innovate and have introduced a raspberry drink. “Kombucha looks like lemonade at first glance, but it is much more. The production itself takes weeks and when demand for the drink is high, we may even sell out. It is a fermented soft drink with very strong probiotic effects, which can also be drunk as a health elixir,” explained Michal Ďuriník.

In addition to bar patrons and people who buy kombucha for home consumption, our other important customer group are corporate employees. “We have found that it is a very good drink to have after a heavy lunch when you often get a bit sleepy. A lot of people used to get a beer, but that contains alcohol and makes you slightly tipsy. Kombucha is also a fermented drink, but it is alcohol-free. Instead, it contains caffeine, which makes people more active and increases afternoon work productivity. That’s why we now supply kombucha in larger volumes to several large companies in the country,” explained František Špás.

Ďuriník was pleased that many companies have started to buy kombucha instead of energy drinks. The drink is now bottled in 330-millilitre bottles, which Špás said is the optimal dose for a person in terms of health benefits. “A one-third litre bottle costs around CZK 60. And we are also planning a one-litre family pack,” František revealed. His business partner then added that the expanding portfolio goes hand in hand with increasing the production volume. “We have also managed to find a way to prolong the product’s shelf life, which opens doors to foreign markets.”

The name Loklok came to Michael while he was staying in Australia, where a Malaysian speciality food vendor had the same sign on her stall. “I really liked the word, so we adopted it. It wasn’t until six months later that the other meaning dawned on me when a café patron told me: ‘I take a sip after another sip’,” says Ďuriník, pointing out the pun where “lok” is the Czech word for “sip”. Indeed, while some people like the first sip already, most people need a second one.

When it comes to the question of what the Faculty of Economics and Administration gave them, František Špás smiles and replies: “A lot of temporary workers. At one time we used to say that our company stood and fell with Masaryk University. Besides finding co-workers, I had the opportunity to join various clubs and workshops at the Faculty, which allowed me to further develop my personality and potential.”

Michal is also grateful for the support of the Faculty, which gave him the opportunity to study in Australia for three years. He now works as a part-time lecturer at the Faculty, teaching marketing and psychology courses. František also enrolled in one of his courses. “And he failed me because I was too good,” he laughs.