Rooibos means “red bush” in Afrikaans. The caffeine-free herb with low levels of tannin grows only in a tiny coastal area of South Africa’s Western Cape in harsh shrubland—making it unique in its origin, climate and flavor, which are not reproducible in other terroirs. Known for its natural sweetness and healthful properties, it possesses potential for market growth.
One of the main selling points of rooibos is its claimed health benefits, mostly convincing, though not scientifically proven. These are shared by green teas, but rooibos seems to have a wider range of wellness properties, with around twice the concentration of anti-oxidants, several not found in tea or in herbal beverages. Its other selling point is its complex flavor that is both a little sweet, smoky and closer to a black tea than a green. (Detractors find it tobacco-like and woody.)
The main health benefits that distinguish rooibos from the many caffeine-free herbal teas and botanical wellness beverages come from its unique chemical profile. Here are examples:
- Supports strong bones: Rooibos contains two flavonoids, orientin and luteolin, that increase the mineral content in bones.
- Helps in weight management, throughincreased leptin secretion. This “satiety hormone” helps your body know it has had enough to eat.
- Treats allergies: Rooibos is especially rich in the super-antioxidant quercetin, which is reported to block immune cells critical in triggering allergic reactions.
- Keeps skin and hair vital: Alpha hydroxy acid is higher in rooibos tea than other foods. Alpha hydroxy acid helps in reducing skin wrinkles.
- Nurtures vascular system: Aspalathin and nothofagin have measurable effects on inflammation of the entire vascular system. They are thought to be key in treating possible complications from diabetes relating to the heart. Aspalathin is found only in rooibos and no other food or beverage.
Though sales are growing consistently and reputation rapidly, the U.S. has been a laggard in rooibos imports. Of South Africa’s shipments of 16,000 metric tons, a record 2,000 went to Japan in 2018. Germany and the Netherlands account for almost half the imports. Figures for the USA are unreliable, with wide variations in reports. In 2016, it constituted just 5 percent of South Afridan rooibos exports. Much of the sales are from bulk rooibos exported from Germany. Prices are increasing rapidly, as a result of severe drought.
The main point of leverage in the value chain seems to be retailers. The product base is established, with a strong body of customer affidavits. The tea fits easily into the three major growth trends in beverages: innovation and variety in flavors, botanical ingredients, and functional wellness drinks. Obvious closers of the awareness gaps are: store section and shelf placement (dietary teas, health drinks), free sampling—rooibos is best marketed through experience, and a clarification of the health benefits, taste complexity and appeal.
SOURCES: South Africa Rooibos Council, tea industry reports and reviews, medical press
CAPTION: Rooibos only grows in the mountainous Cederberg region near Clanwilliam, about 155 miles (250 km) north of Cape Town, South Africa.
Check out these exhibitors at the World Tea Expo, June 11-13, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada to learn more about rooibos.
Cederberg Tea Co., Booth NB13
DMH Ingredients Inc. / Rooibos Ltd., Booth 400
Harney & Sons Tea Co., Booth 632