Humm Kombucha, the Oregon-based beverage maker that planned an East Coast factory in Roanoke, won’t be coming after all.
The company told city leaders in May that challenging market conditions and improvements in production and transportation capabilities at its home plant led it to halt its plans for Roanoke. The news was disclosed during Monday’s Roanoke City Council meeting.
The maker of fermented tea drinks had planned a $10 million, 100,000-square-foot plant on 12 acres in the Roanoke Centre for Industry and Technology that was to employ 46 people.
Humm, which followed fellow Bend, Oregon, business Deschutes Brewery to Roanoke, likewise followed Deschutes in not coming after all. Deschutes, though, has left the door slightly open to one day building a brewery in Roanoke. Deschutes still owns a 49-acre site it bought from the city for $3.2 million.
Humm had seemed on track to follow through with its plans announced in November 2017. The company bought the land for the plant from the city for $943,400, just a month after a celebratory public unveiling. Last year, it brought in the pieces of a prefabricated building and some equipment to prepare for construction.
“And then I think their industry changed on them pretty dramatically,” City Manager Bob Cowell said Monday. “It was on this rocket of expansion, and now so many others have started to fill that same space.”
A Humm representative could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Not long after announcing its Roanoke expansion, Humm Kombucha was sued by a competitor, California-based Tortilla Factory, the maker of Kombucha Dog, which argued Humm’s products should be regulated as alcoholic beverages because they contained more than 0.5% alcohol by volume.
Humm denied the allegations but last year announced a new brewing process that would prevent their kombucha from containing that much alcohol. That lawsuit was settled last month, but no details of the settlement were made public.
The Roanoke City Council on Monday approved repurchasing the land from Humm so it can be marketed to other companies, and also accepted the receipt of $100,000 from Humm as compensation for having encumbered the land for more than a year and a half.
Humm received no cash incentives from the city. The state provided $150,000 for the project from the Commonwealth Transportation Fund, but the city has been holding that money pending the company meeting employment benchmarks. It will be returned to the state shortly.
Cowell noted that both Humm and Deschutes have met similar challenges in trying to come to Roanoke — their respective markets changing on them before they could even get their new facilities started.
“Both are very viable successful companies, both making money,” Cowell said. But they aren’t making as much, and not enough to expand.
Cowell said Humm’s decision is a disappointment, as was Deschutes’, but neither is a reflection on Roanoke.
“They recognize what’s going on here, they just can’t … justify making those expenditures at this point,” he said.
Still, Mayor Sherman Lea paused to remember the fanfare with which Humm’s plans for Roanoke were announced.
“That was a big day, we had the governor of Virginia there, everybody drinking Humm,” he said. “But that’s how it goes.”