A Wellington pharmacy has won an expensive legal battle with the government over the right to sell kombucha.
WellWorks co-owner Ben Latty has won a legal battle with the government to sell kombucha at his pharmacy.
Like any pharmacy, Wellness Works on Taranaki Street sold medicine and filled prescriptions.
But its plans to serve fermented beverages on tap were blocked by the Ministry of Health, kicking off a legal battle for the licence to sell the drinks.
People have drunk kombucha for centuries, and historians tracked its origins to Northern China, in the year 220BC.
Proponents lauded it as a fast-track to a healthy gut - and in recent years it had surged in popularity, popping up in supermarkets and cafes.
Now, WellWorks on Taranaki Street had started selling the product too. The shop was a so-called 'health bar' at the front and a standard pharmacy at the back.
One of the owners Ben Latty said it's an innovative idea.
"Probably a first for this part of the world to honest, in a pharmacy. Basically we've just got a bar with a bunch of kombucha and keffir on tap, a bunch of wellness tonics, that sort of stuff."
The launch was a long time coming and followed a lengthy battle with the Ministry of Health.
Mr Latty said building the business was straight-forward until they went to the Ministry of Health for their licence.
"They came back and said "Nope, you're not doing this," he said - "On the basis they were stuck in 1981."
"There's a regulation that says you're not supposed to sell medicine in the same room you prepare food and drink."
The Medicines Act 1981 stated that drug dispensaries could not make or sell food.
But Ben Latty said the rules were clearly outdated.
"Every second pharmacy has a staff room attached to a dispensary where there's a cheese toastie maker close-by," he said.
"Countdown is doing their thing with dispensaries in the middle on an aisle with a bakery."
Ben Latty and his business partners hired lawyers and appealed Ministry of Health's decision to the Medicines Review Committee.
After some hefty legal fees, lost sleep, and a long wait - the tribunal ruled in their favour.
WellWorks was allowed to sell fermented tea and turmeric lattes, alongside antibiotics.
The Ministry of Health was not available for an interview, but in a statement, Medsafe's group manager Chris James said its opposition to the pharmacy health bar was in line with the rules.
He said Medsafe was using the result to develop together new guidelines for people wanting to open similar shops.
"Medsafe actively welcomes and supports innovation in the industry. We frequently receive and consider proposals for innovative pharmacy practice. In this particular case, it came down to compliance with the legislative framework."
People at the launch were in full support of the pharmacy health bar.
Ben Latty said the battle to sell tea cost them more than $20,000 in legal fees and wasted rent, but he said their success proved old rules could bend for innovation.