Kombucha was once a rising trend in Malaysia a couple of years ago, and it is now commonplace to find various local brands retailed in grocery and convenience stores around the city.
Throughout the years, we’ve featured many stories of Malaysian kombucha brewers. Most of them started out because they noted improvements in their gut health issues after consuming kombucha, and wanted to spread its benefits.
Sophia Tong’s background is a little different. With RM500, she launched her kombucha brand, Floatingmother, on Instagram while waiting for lockdowns to subside so she could pursue her legal license in the UK.
Finding her start
Prior to founding Floatingmother in Johor, Sophia was a paralegal who was planning to pursue her Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). However, that didn’t work out due to COVID-19.
In the meantime, she discovered kombucha at a café she visited and instantly fell in love with its taste. Coincidentally, she was also on a diet then and learnt that kombucha was low in sugar and calories, hence making it a worthy alternative to other sugary beverages.
After developing cravings for kombucha while in lockdown, Sophia decided to try making it herself.
However, the beverage can generally be difficult to make from scratch if one doesn’t already have a “mother”, a starter otherwise known as SCOBY, which stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. SCOBY is the large, jelly-like floating mass you would usually see in a big brew of kombucha.
A new SCOBY is grown by combining tea, sugar, and some pre-made kombucha, and it needs a few weeks to ferment in controlled temperatures.
Sophia’s attempt at growing her own SCOBY took longer than expected, so she tried her luck and got a small batch of the starter from a nearby café that supplied it for free.
Mango kombucha was the first flavour she made, which surprisingly reaped good results from the start. After receiving positive feedback from relatives who encouraged her to sell the beverage, Sophia dove into R&D before finally launching Floatingmother in June 2021.
Collaboration over competition
As mentioned earlier, there are dozens of local kombucha brands in the Malaysian market today, though most of them are saturated in the Klang Valley. While I was unable to find many kombucha brewers based in Johor, Sophia did point out that more competition is cropping up.
But instead of viewing other players as a threat, she thinks it’s encouraging. “For me, it seems to be a good sign that Johorians are looking into the direction of a more healthy lifestyle,” Sophia told Vulcan Post. “I would love to exchange ideas [with other brewers] and share about my journey with them if there’s a chance, since exchanging knowledge shapes a healthy community too.”
And because different methods of brewing can produce different results, every kombucha from each brand will have its own unique flavours. At the end of the day, it’s all about a customer’s personal preference.
In terms of cost, Floatingmother’s beverages are priced at RM12.90 for its classic flavours like watermelon mint, pineapple, and mango, and RM14.90 for premium ones like lychee and rose. These prices are in line with the same range of other brands such as Boocha and WonderBrew, to name a few.
Working single-handedly on Floatingmother, Sophia can produce a minimum of 300 bottles per batch, and she makes them twice a month as each batch requires 14 days to brew. While she did not disclose details on the business’s sales performance, she has reported that Floatingmother is now profitable.
A meaningful name
When I first heard of the brand’s name, “Floatingmother”, I’ll admit that it sounded pretty off-putting to me. But after I understood the process required to make kombucha, it’s clear that the brand’s name draws reference to SCOBY.
Sophia confirmed this and shared that including “mother” in the name, though may come off unappealing, has a bigger meaning behind it.
“I’ve always had a heart for children, especially orphans and kids who are underprivileged. One of my dreams is to help children the best that I can, like providing proper education, basic supplies, and nutritious foods,” Sophia explained.
Through Floatingmother, Sophia added that part of the business’s income will be channeled into a charity, “Local Love”, which the 27-year-old also created alongside her kombucha brand.
She summarised, “‘Floating’ refers to the SCOBY and ‘mother’ represents my heart for the children. And yes, I stuck to this name although it might sound a little unappealing, but I hope more people will get the chance to understand the brand and the aspirations behind it.”
Bigger ambitions ahead
As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” Sophia believes this is true and hopes to find investors to join in her journey to bring Floatingmother into its next stages.
Floatingmother is currently engaging a few shops in KL to bring its kombuchas onto retail shelves while also working with logistics companies to ship her products nationwide.
“We would also like to emphasise more on the ‘Local Love’ project to raise awareness to the public about issues that children are facing. We plan to visit an orphanage and give out kombucha to kids,” added Sophia.
The goal is to make Floatingmother’s kombucha a childhood drink for these kids. “If kids could replace unhealthy beverages with Kombucha from a young age, learn about mindful eating and drinking, the future society will end up healthier too,” Sophia hoped.
She also plans to move Floatingmother’s production from her home to a larger space to accommodate more helpers. “We would prioritise hiring single mums as we want to help them. Through this, we hope to provide a better standard of living for families that are in need,” concluded the founder.
When asked about whether she still has plans to pursue her legal license, Sophia shared that she’s since given up on that dream as she now finds more enjoyment in building Floatingmother.
- You can learn more about Floatingmother here.
- You can read about more Malaysian F&B brands we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Sophia Tong, founder of Floatingmother