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Can South Africa market Rooibos as a wellness fix?

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Monday, 15 April 2019 16:05

Workers sweep leaves of drying Rooibos tea in the remote mountains of the Cedarberg region / REUTERS/ Mike Hutchings

Can South Africa turn what was once called the 'poor man’s tea' into a global 'wellness' export?

Rooibos tea is seducing markets from Germany to Sri Lanka to Japan – one of the largest tea-drinking nations in the world.

  • Exports of the indigenous tea hit record highs in 2018, with 16,000 tons sold.

But to kick it up a gear, South Africa’s Rooibos Council (SARC) wants to research the health benefits, and ways in which Rooibos can tackle diseases like diabetes, and various heart conditions.

  • “We do not want to make wild claims, we want scientific data to prove this,” says the SARC’s Joe Swart. Rooibos tea is indigenous to the Western Cape and is the only place in the world where it is grown in abundance.

The SARC say that Rooibos is a good source of unique and beneficial bio-actives such as antioxidants, particularly rich in phytochemicals such as flavonoids and polyphenols

There are several studies currently underway.

  • An investigation into Rooibos’ impact on hayfever and chronic rhinitis, conducted by the UCT Lung Institute.
  • The Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology and the Massey University in New Zealand will combine their expertise to look at how the herbal tea can improve glycaemic control in people with pre-diabetes and/or type II diabetes.
  • Stellenbosch University is also investigating how Aspalathin, a flavonoid unique to the tea could counter the effects of obesity. If successful, work will commence on an anti-obesity Rooibos supplement.

Japan is the big target, says the SARC: More than 2,000 tons were exported in 2018 – the largest consignment since Rooibos was first introduced to the Japanese in the 1980s.

Beyond vineyard tours: Tim Harris, CEO of Cape Town’s economic promotion agency Wesgro, says it is encouraging to see the volume of research being done.

  • “In addition to providing more than 8,000 jobs with further employment being created in upstream manufacturing activities, Rooibos is poised to further boost the Western Cape’s coffers by way of agri-tourism, turning Clanwilliam – the heartland of Rooibos – into an attractive tourism destination”.

Rooibos industry structure

300 commercial farmers
150 small scale farmers in Wuppertal
60 micro scale farmers
11 processors
Employs about 8,000 farm labourers and contributes 2.4m rand ($172,000)

Who buys Rooibos Tea?

  • Japan 30% of exports
  • Germany 28%
  • Netherlands 11%
  • UK 8,5%
  • US 5%
  • Sri Lanka 2.6%

Source: SA Rooibos Council

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