ROOIBOS, SA’s naturally caffeine-free tea, is fast becoming a hit in overseas markets, according to the Rooibos Council.

The council says SA currently exports rooibos tea to more than 30 countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, the UK and US. About half (6,000 tonnes to 7,000 tonnes) of rooibos output is exported annually, while the balance is consumed locally.

According to market research agency Insight Survey’s latest South African Tea Industry Landscape Report 2016, SA tea-lovers are shifting toward a preference for rooibos rather than black tea.

Grown only in the Cederberg mountains of the Western Cape, the caffeine-free tea was once widely regarded as an acquired taste.

Ernest du Toit, spokesperson for the Rooibos Council, said although black tea still has a higher overall consumption than rooibos, it is experiencing a steady decline, whereas rooibos tea is showing growth both locally and even more so globally.

Germany by far still remains the biggest importer of rooibos tea at 31%, with the Netherlands at 16% and Japan at 15%.

Du Toit said the recently signed EU-Southern African Development Community (Sadc) economic partnership agreement, not only extends the geographical indicator status or trademark protection of rooibos, but will also widen economic trade between Europe and SA, and the five other Sadc states.

The partnership agreement will also allow SA to export 110-million litres of wine to Europe, up from the current annual duty-free quota of 48-million litres.

The Insight Survey used AMPS to obtain an in-depth understanding of SA’s tea market where more than 25,000 adults (15 years and older) were interviewed in both rural and urban areas from January to June 2015, and July to December 2015

The proportion of black tea consumers fell between 2011 and 2015, from 58.6% to 51.5%. However, the percentage of South African Rooibos consumers rose from 29.4% in 2011 to 30.9% in 2015.

According to a rooibos industry report by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries released in 2015, there are an estimated 350 to 550 rooibos tea farmers in SA, and the secondary processing is currently dominated by eight large processors responsible for an estimated 90% of the market.

Traditionally, the rooibos tea industry has employed more than 5,000 people both on the farms and processing plants, with a turnover estimated at R500m per year.

The Department said the rooibos tea industry was one of the biggest employers of people from SA’s rural provinces, providing both permanent and seasonal employment opportunities.

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