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North Vancouver man turns life around with successful soda brand

Kirk Buxton started his probiotic drink business with $100 of Ikea jars while in recovery for substance use
Kirk Buxton started making kefir water to alleviate his own gut issues. Now he’s expected to ship 120,000 bottles of probiotic soda out of his North Vancouver facility this year. | Nick Laba / North Shore News

Warning: This story contains mention of suicide that may be distressing to some readers.

After a long and hard road battling personal demons, beverage maker Kirk Buxton has learned to trust his gut.

Buxton is the founder of Kirk’s Probiotic Soda, a fizzy drink made in North Vancouver that’s formulated to taste great while providing the microbiome-boosting benefits of fermented kefir.

What started six years ago with $100, enough to buy jars at Ikea and fill them with a brew made in his home, has grown to a business that’s expected to do nearly $1 million in sales over the next 12 months.

You can find Buxton’s bottles of soda in small independent markets, as well as large grocery chains including Save-On-Foods and the Real Canadian Superstore. On the side of the 330-millilitre bottles are the words “trust your gut” in bold lettering.

Buxton says his life passion is using food to help people. Similarly, the driving force behind his soda brand is to alleviate digestive problems, he said.

But his determination to promote a healthy lifestyle wasn’t always top of mind.

After years in the throes of heroin and fentanyl abuse, on the evening of March 10, 2017, Buxton was determined to end his life. Driving along the Sea to Sky highway, he took off his seatbelt and sped into a wall of solid rock.

Everything went white.

Buxton felt relieved that it was all over – until he heard the jarring sound of a tire spinning by his head. He was alive, and upside down.

“And then I hear this voice. She goes, ‘I’m a nurse. Can I help you?’ The second voice is, ‘I’m a local doctor, are you OK?’” Buxton recalls. “So I’ve got a nurse and a doctor outside my car. And I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m definitely not dying now.’”

At the hospital, Buxton expected to be stigmatized for his suicide attempt. Instead, the medical staff treated him with compassion. “I’m still friends with the nurse today,” he said.

Seeing his mother at the foot of his bed, lost in a tangle of documents trying to put his financial life back together, was a turning point.

“At that moment, I sat up and I said, ‘How can I help?’” he said. “I just went to work. I decided I was going to change my life.”

'The story is about hope'

Buxton went into recovery and was soon working as a chef at a men’s treatment centre. Even though he was clean, years of putting harmful substances in his body had wreaked havoc on his digestive system.

“I was always bloated no matter what I did,” he said. Buxton went to a doctor, who gave him probiotic pills, but those didn’t provide the relief he was looking for.

Reflecting on his personal belief that food is medicine, he decided to trust his gut. Coincidentally, the mother of his recovery roommate was making a drink from fermenting kefir grains. She gave him some of those grains. And after a bit of research, Buxton started making it in his home.

“Immediately I was like, this stuff’s amazing,” he said. “My gut issues were gone within the first day.”

Working in the treatment centre, he started giving out kefir water to his friends in the neighbourhood, mostly in recovery themselves. Pretty quickly, they started asking if they could buy it off him.

So Buxton started selling two-litre growlers, and it grew from there.

“The community really got behind it,” he said. “Then I realized how many people were suffering from gut-related issues. I had no idea.”

People came to him ecstatic that they’d had their first solid poop in years.

“At some point I decided, well, looks like this is a business,” he said.

Production of his kefir sodas started out of a shared kitchen in 2020, then moved to a kombucha-making facility. In October 2022, Kirk’s Probiotic Soda moved to its own dedicated production space in North Vancouver, where Buxton grew up.

Sales of his sodas have been bubbling over. Revenues were around $200,000 in the past 12 months, and are on track to hit $1,000,000 over the next 12.

With a background in sales, his brother Ken Buxton has been getting the drinks on shelves all over town. Hollyburn Country Club was one of their first clients, along with City Avenue Markets. With continued momentum, Kirk’s now has deals with big distributors like Horizon Grocery + Wellness and Gordon Food Service.

The brand has also stayed connected to the local community, sponsoring Altitude Football Club and doing events for organizations like North Shore Winter Club.

Buxton underscores that he didn’t do this alone.

“This story isn’t about me,” he said. “My brother was there, my family was there, the treatment centre was there.”

He wants his success to give hope to others struggling with substance use.

“If people want to reach out and say, ‘Hey, I got someone in trouble. What can I do?’ We’ve got a whole network of people that are living and enjoying life without the use of drugs,” he said. “The story is about hope – that’s the most important part.”

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