With parents who own Haliburton’s Little Hawk Resort and Marina, Lucus Esson grew up with entrepreneurship in his blood. In fact, it came as such second nature to him that, when he started selling his home-brewed kombucha, he didn’t even recognize it as a business.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the business part of things,” Esson tells kawarthaNOW. “I just sold something that I thought would be valuable to other people.”
Now, though, there’s no mistaking that Esson, at just 26 years old, has turned Nectr Kombucha — formerly known as Luc’s Brew Kombucha — into a fast-growing small business, with eight regular flavours of his fermented and lightly effervescent black tea beverage stacked on shelves across Ontario.
Esson began to think about new names for the company earlier this year when he decided to “get more serious” with his business, and redesigned the brand and packaging.
“Nectr just felt more refined to me and I felt it reflected the product that we’re offering,” says Esson, adding that the previous name also stirred confusion as customers often thought he was brewing beer. “Nectar is a gift from nature that nurtures a lot of the animals and insects. We’re creating kombucha as a gift and so ‘Nectr’ just fit.”
The business began three years ago when Esson was fresh out of university. Surprisingly, the entrepreneur didn’t study nutrition, health, or even business. He was studying computer science and math and working as a software designer. He recalls knowing the job wasn’t a good fit for him and wanting to pursue something new upon graduation. Though he didn’t imagine he’d ever be brewing kombucha, looking back, he says it was a natural progression.
“I’ve always been really interested in health and wellness and I’ve studied that my whole life — how to be healthier and how to enjoy life more by being healthy,” Esson explains. “So it kind of just made sense.”
Esson says he grew up with a lot of gut health issues, including allergies and acid reflux, and was at one point on prescription pills to maintain his health. After dedicating some time to learn about gut health remedies, he became a big fan of kombucha and drank it all the time as a teenager.
“I started learning about probiotics and would take supplements,” he says. “And I began to learn how fermented foods can really support your gut health, and about the connection between your gut health and your overall health, well-being, and vitality.”
Esson explains that fermented foods are natural to the body because long ago, that’s one way people would preserve food and give it a longer shelf life. Fermenteds food have the probiotics (healthy bacteria) that we want in our bodies, he says, as they eliminate the bacteria we don’t want.
“Essentially with fermented foods, you’re nurturing the good bacteria and propagating them and growing them like a good concentration,” says Esson, adding that fermented foods also have an organic acid, which positively increases the pH of the body. “For kombucha specifically, there’s just a lot of vitamins and polyphenols from the fruits and the herbs.”
According to the young entrepreneur, proper gut health can have positive effect on other parts of your life, as well, including your energy and stress levels, emotions and feelings, and vitality.
“When something’s out of balance in your environment or in your body, there’s going to be a reflection of that,” he says, adding that stress, processed foods, and not drinking water can all contribute to poor gut health. “You want to create harmony in your life. You want to reduce stress, eat good foods, get good sleep, hang around good people — and that’s going to create a good environment in your body and your mind.”
Learning to brew kombucha was entirely self-taught for Esson, who jokes that you can learn anything from the internet these days.
Since the beginning, Esson says he has only ever made kombucha using quality organic ingredients like tea and sugar, infused with fresh, nutrient-rich fruit. It’s not a quick process, though, requiring the drink to sit for two to four weeks after adding the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) which ultimately turns the sweet tea into kombucha. Then, it takes another few days for the herbs and fruit to carbonate, before the drink can be filtered, bottled, and refrigerated.
“It’s a really fun process of being able to grow something from scratch in your kitchen without too much equipment,” Esson explains.
After discovering that his friends and family enjoyed his kombucha, “one thing led to another” and Esson decided to bottle it, then stick a label on the bottle and bring it to business owners and retailers in Haliburton who had known Esson since he was younger.
In March 2020, about three months after first starting to brew, Esson saw his products on shelves, as Up River Trading Co., Castle Antiques, and Abbey Gardens were some of the first places that gave his kombucha a chance.
“I don’t remember thinking too much about where it could have gone or where it could have been headed,” explains Esson. “I was just having a lot of fun, and I live by the idea that if you are interested in something and you’re providing a lot of value to people and you focus on that, and you’re interested in it, it’s going to be successful.”
Nectr, which is now brewed from the commercial kitchen in his parents’ resort, can be found in upwards of 50 retailers across Ontario, with the list of locations growing each month. There are currently eight kombucha flavours offered to all customers including two of Esson’s favourites: turmeric ginger and raspberry lemonade. The brand also offers occasional specialty and seasonal flavours for businesses that serve the kombucha from kegs.
Soon, Nectr will be launching a lavender mojito flavour, which was first released as a special at Abbey Gardens.
“We use a butterfly pea flour to give it a typical lavender colour, and then we flavour it with fresh lavender, mint, and lime juice,” he says, adding that the flavour sold out within a few days at the Gardens. “Everybody loved it.”
Moving forward, Esson and his small team are working towards broadening the distribution of his products, aiming to get into more hotels and retailers, and partnering with other local small businesses.
Though, Esson explains, the main goal is always to continue to provide healthy, nurturing beverage options to the public.
“If you try to provide value and put yourself out there, I feel like nothing but good can come from that,” he explains. “No matter the size of (the business) or the amount of money it makes or any of that, it’s always just been a fun ride and I feel like that’s the successful part for me.”