By Deborah Bostock-Kelley
A chiropractic student and foster parent, and a California commercial realtor, two 29 years olds on two very different career paths, had their lives changed by mother. Not the capital M Mother, but the kind used to create a delicious, healthy live sparkling fermented drink called Sunny Culture.
In 2015, Rany Bochi had been perfecting a water kefir recipe in his mother’s kitchen, testing flavors out on friends and family, not really thinking beyond his familiar circle.
Unlike dairy kefir which is detrimental to anyone with lactose intolerance or the bitterness of pungent vinegar-based drinks, water kefir is fermented by filtered water, organic superfoods, and organic cane sugar which is used to feed the mother culture. Caffeine-free, gluten-free, and organically certified, with no added sugar post-fermentation, water kefir is functional and refreshing.
“We found a product that combines the benefits of all. As a non-dairy kefir, it still has the wide spectrum probiotic, but it has a lighter, refreshing aspect unlike other beverages,” said Rany. “Many moms who wanted to give something healthy to their kids haven’t been able to do that because of caffeine or high sugar. We’re like a probiotic fruit juice for kids.”
Rany reached out to his childhood best friend and his passion and enthusiasm about this new product motivated Patrick Whitner to change careers to become a partner and official taste tester of the fledgling new company.
“When we tried the Hibiscus that’s when we looked at each other and we knew we had a product that could go to the mass consumer,” said Patrick.
The next step was trialing the water kefir at the Hyde Park Farmer’s Market. From the many raves and positive reviews of local taste testers, Sunny Culture was officially born.
“Our goal first and foremost is to educate about the importance of gut health. We are part of the solution and we get excited when people intake a variety of different fermented foods. We want our company to be part of our customer’s healthy lifestyle.” said Patrick. “It’s a privilege to be part of that for people.”
Named Sunny Culture – a callout to the Sunshine State – the bottle features a symbolic mangrove tree representing strong roots.
This Tampa Bay independent business has a mission to make gut health accessible to all, especially children, and particularly children in low income areas. The startup’s goal is to partner with local organizations that work with foster children and local schools to provide probiotics to children.
“Most kids in low income areas are eating many processed foods. A little bit of probiotics go a long way, especially because of the wide spectrum nature of our live probiotic.”
Recently certified organic, bottled in eco-friendly glass in flavors of Ginger, Blueberry, Elderberry and Hibiscus, each product is handcrafted locally. Never using any concentrates or extracts, Sunny Culture is made from real blueberries, elderberries, hibiscus, and ginger.
“We use whole organic real ingredients – the way it’s supposed to be,” he said. “We call it ‘no shortcuts.’ That’s how you get the true benefits of all the ingredients. We want to be the probiotic of choice and provide a guilt-free sparkling water experience.”
Some customers drink Water Kefir as a refreshing beverage while others drink it for the functionality.
“Each flavor that we’ve chosen is with functional intention,” Rany explained. “The biggest thing we are trying to do is to encourage people not only to drink our product because it is refreshing, but also to drink with purpose.”
Rany and Patrick chose water kefir product rather than another dairy kefir because the sugar in commercial dairy kefir was alarming.
“We’re kind of the stepping stone for people to start experimenting with fermented foods. We call it ‘the gateway to fermentation.’ Probiotics are a big part of digestion as a whole and we are extremely passionate about sharing that message with our community.”
Sunny Culture’s Hibiscus is featured in Hibiscus Negrone, a signature cocktail at the Hall of Franklin. The team is also looking to expand into other bars as healthy mocktail options for non-drinkers.
Already successfully sold in local yoga studios and health food stores like Abby’s Health and Nutrition, Duckweed Downtown, Rollin’ Oats Market, Lucky’s Market, among several others, Sunny Culture is celebrating a local Metro launch in Whole Foods in South Tampa, Carrollwood, and Clearwater locations.
“We hear stories at farmer’s markets – that’s why we, the two founders, are out there in the Florida sun every weekend,” said Patrick. “It’s about us being able to connect with the community and listen. It’s humbling when we hear testimonials about our products and it just ignites our fire even more why we are doing what we are doing and why we changed both of our lives to go on this mission together. We want to be part of people’s lives. That’s a gift to us. We don’t take that responsibility lightly.”