After its rebrand, Tonica goes national with Sobeys

The kombucha brand is benefiting from an expanded retail footprint, product redesign and interest in better-for-you products.


Toronto kombucha brand Tonica has been busy, going national in Sobeys stores right after its first rebrand in a decade.

The grocery banner is the third major retailer to stock Tonica products nationally after Whole Foods in 2012 and Shoppers Drug Mart in 2017.

“When I started the company there was no kombucha on shelves at all,” says Zoey Shamai, who founded the brand in 2006. “It was a craft, homebrewed digestive aid for health foodies and yogis.”

Over the years, the category has grown, with the fermented drink soon becoming trendy.

“We went from being the only kombucha brand to one of maybe 12 in the set, with only one other Canadian brand,” Shamai says. She tells strategy Tonica’s differentiator in that crowd is its innovations and flavour profile, in addition to digestive health benefits.

Sobeys came knocking after Tonica withstood the category’s boom and bust cycles, helped by interest in better-for-you products brought on by the pandemic, which caused a sales spike.

“I think everyone was fully aware of and concerned about their health, and Tonica is a product particularly focused on gut health,” Shamai says. “I think because of that, we had a lot of new customers coming to the set who were looking for a functional beverage and not just a fad,” she says.


In addition to the new national listings, Tonica’s beverages are also stocked in Metro stores in Ontario, with its cans in the chain’s dairy sections and its bottles in produce. In May, Tonica launched its low-sugar SKUs in Whole Foods, while this August, the company also launched a promo with health and vitamin retailer Healthy Planet.

An expanded shelf presence is a reassurance, Shamai says, as there have been dozens of micro local brands entering the space to compete.

The kombucha category got really crowded, she elaborates. And then retailers started to realize their overall sales were diminishing because they brought in too many different brands and people were just price shopping without any loyalty.

According to Shamai, a lot of big retailers have pared it down and are sticking with one or two local brands, a category leader from the U.S., and might be doing a private label.

Shamai also attributes strong sales from the company’s recent rebrand – Tonica’s first since before Shamai appeared on Dragons’ Den with the beverage in 2012 – developed with Toronto creative shop Make Branding and Design.

The rebrand was informed by customers saying they loved the product but that the packaging doesn’t match its flavour, experience, or lightness, she says.

“We wanted to change the brand so that it was still familiar enough that consumers could find us, but would convey the delicious and energizing properties of our beverage and bring us into the moment,” Shamai adds. “We really wanted to capture a dreamy, euphoric colourscape and look for more aspirational moments in our branding.”