Kombucha CEO says company's founders 'were “succeed at any cost” types of people'

Ronald D. White, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- Daina Trout, who turns 38 this week, is a co-founder and chief executive of Health-Ade Kombucha in Torrance, considered one of the dominant brands in the rapidly growing global market for the fermented tea. Health-Ade was founded in 2012 by Trout, her husband, Justin, and her best friend, Vanessa Dew. Justin Trout serves as chief operating officer; Dew is chief sales officer. Health-Ade, which has grown to more than 200 employees, produces 16 flavors of kombucha, which can be found in more than 26,000 stores. The company is on track to sell more than 4 million cases in 2019.


Young Daina Slekys discovered her love of science during high school in Plymouth, Mass. She studied pre-med and health sciences at Georgetown University and dietetics at Simmons University, then obtained master's degrees from Tufts University in nutritional biochemistry and public health. She had been inspired by an internship with Artemis Simopoulos, one of the authors of "The Omega Diet." "I really fell in love with nutrition sciences and how it could have an impact on health. That was my entryway."


Trout still didn't have any sense of how she was going to employ this knowledge, but the first hint emerged during her time at Tufts, when she got hooked on cooking and fermentation. She even self-published a book, jokingly titled "Someone's in the kitchen with Daina." She had begun drinking kombucha but found the flavor lacking in store-bought versions of the probiotic drink. "I learned how to make a really good kombucha. Mine always tasted better to me and my friends."



Tired of the East Coast's cold weather, Daina and Justin headed for Los Angeles in 2007 without jobs. "I started looking for work but I really had no interest in anything academic. Dietitian jobs just didn't pay very much and I had home mortgage worth of college debt." She wound up being recruited for a sales job with British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. On her first day, she was paired up with future best friend Vanessa Dew.


GSK put Trout in a position in which she was working with teams of employees to help them become more effective and "more engaged with the company," she said. "I worked with over 300 teams. It was this unbelievably robust case study on how teams work, which do well and on what types of leaders do those successful teams have. I was just a sponge soaking up all this information."



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