The South African Rooibos Council is taking part in an global project in order to make improvements to the export competitiveness of rooibos, one of the country’s favorite products.
The project is a joint effort between the SA Rooibos Council and the International Trade Centre – a joint agency of the World Trade Organisation and the UN. Financing for the project is made available from the government of The Netherlands.
“We are thrilled that international funders understand the possible ways to take the rooibos product further,” says Soekie Snyman from the Rooibos Council.
South Africa is the world’s sole producer of rooibos, which is actually a unique selling point of the product. Classed as as a herb, rooibos is an element of the fynbos family of plants found in the Cape Floral Kingdom, considered one of only six recognised floral kingdoms on the planet.
Utilized primarily as tea however easily obtainable in numerous types of other products, rooibos is native to the Cederberg region north-west of Cape Town and will only grow in this region. The area’s hot and dry summers, winter rainfall and rough sandy soil provide perfect growing conditions for the sturdy rooibos plant.
As reported by the SA Rooibos Council, 72% of South African households buy rooibos tea and sales are growing at approximately 5% a year. Even though the value of exported tea has grown by an average 26% year-on-year between 2005 and 2009, in excess of 90% of rooibos is exported in large quantities, with little value added.
In 2007 the world’s largest flavour company Givaudan named rooibos as one of the flavours to look out for in its annual FlavourVision forecast.Ever since then, rooibos proceeded to go from being a flavour to watch to a local and international beverage of preference.
Thinking creatively about rooibos
The research project will assist the industry to think a lot more creatively with regards to marketing the sought-after herb.
“To sustain the growth we’ve attained in the last 12 years we need to continue developing the domestic market in addition to examine new possibilities to expand exports,” says Martin Bergh, chairman of the SA Rooibos Council.
The research project will assist the industry to fully grasp rooibos’s export potential, investigate strategies to increase current production, sustain jobs and improve the value of exported tea.
At present about 50 % of the 12 000 tons of rooibos produced annually is exported, mainly to Germany. As per Snyman, Germany buys and sells the most significant quantities of herbs such as rooibos. “It is the international herb trading capital of the world,” she says.
Rooibos is exported to in excess of 30 countries. Germany, The Netherlands, Japan, the UK and US are the largest importers.
Aside from the opportunities for value adding, the rooibos industry is a significant employer in the Cederberg and surrounding areas. The industry is labour-intensive and provides about 4 500 jobs.
The South African government has acknowledged this as one of the focus areas in its Industrial Policy Action Plan – by promoting the exports of added-value rooibos products, jobs in the sector will be better protected.
Taking these aspects into consideration, the objective of the initial six-month project is to perform an in-depth analysis of the structure and pricing of the German rooibos market. The collected information will assist the industry to determine new opportunities and market segments.
In a statement Lilia Naas, programme manager at the International Trade Centre, outlined that the research forms part of the inception phase of the project. If the results prove encouraging, a second phase of the project would put into practice activities to boost the positioning of rooibos in international markets.
Value adding potential
Snyman says that rooibos is actually a versatile product that can be used extensively in the manufacture of products such as pet skincare ranges, alcoholic liqueurs, rooibos-smoked butter, salad dressings, yoghurt, jams, jellies and biscuits.
Rooibos is additionally a favourite ingredient in experimental cuisine. At the Twelve Apostles Hotel in Cape Town, which not too long ago made it onto the Condé Nast Traveler Magazine listing of the 80 best new hotels globally, you can savor rooibos ice-cream as part of their fynbos-inspired menu.
Whilst value adding is extremely important, Snyman says that the primary focus of the industry continues to be tea. “There is a growing market trend for speciality teas. In South Africa, the speciality tea market is still small, but it’s growing fast,” she says.
South Africa’s unofficial national drink
Apart from its sweet flavour, one more reason for the ever increasing popularity of rooibos is the verified natural health benefits.
The SA Rooibos Council has invested in excess of R2-million (US$252 000) in independent scientific research to ascertain the benefits associated with rooibos. It is financing six projects at a number of local universities and science councils, concentrating on how rooibos can counter cancer and stress in addition to the link between rooibos and exercise. A project on rooibos and obesity is also underway.
A newly released collaborative study by scientists at four international research facilities discovered the first clinical evidence that drinking rooibos tea significantly improves the antioxidant capacity in human blood, boosting the body’s natural defences.