>>> THE HONEYBUSH STORY....
Local growth and the start of an international footprint
This packaging of 'Caspa Cyclopia Tea', dating back to the 1960s, is the earliest example of honeybush tea packaged and branded commercially. Photo supplied by ARC.
From 1940 to 1990, several sporadic increases in tea production happened in the Langkloof. During this period, a few marketing attempts took place in the form of honeybush tea packaged in carton boxes. One of the earliest examples was the packaged 'Caspa Cyclopia Tea' (ca. 250 gram) through the involvement of Benjamin Ginsberg, the pioneer of rooibos marketing in the early development of the rooibos tea industry. Later 200-gram packets were marketed through Intercontinental Foods (Johannesburg) and Goldberger Trading (East London). The inscription 'Contains no caffeine or harmful alkaloids' appeared on these afore-mentioned packets. This labelling claim was derived from a preliminary report of the biochemical studies of honeybush tea by S.E. Terblanche (University of Port Elizabeth, now Nelson Mandela University) in the late 1970s. Also in the late 1970s, attempts were made to export honeybush tea to the USA, Japan and Germany, but without any success.
Since the revival of the industry in the 1990s, honeybush tea has been sold in bulk to international clients. It was exported for the first time in 1993, and again in 1995, to Japan and Germany, both major international markets for rooibos. Since then, the export market for honeybush has expanded substantially with about 632 tonnes recorded in 2011. However, shortages of plant material, as well as severe droughts and veld fires, have curbed export volumes. Major export destinations include the Netherlands, Germany, USA, Canada and UK. Apart from Japan, honeybush is also exported to traditional tea-drinking countries such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia and China. In 2019, a major shift in export to African countries was seen, indicating the potential development of new markets.
The industry also recognised the importance of local value-addition in terms of packaged products ready for the retail market. Today, honeybush products are sold as speciality and/or health products in major retail supermarkets, health shops, pharmacies, up-market farm stalls, as well as through online marketing. The involvement of major rooibos tea marketing companies contributed to the presence of honeybush products on supermarket shelves.
Over the past two decades, various branded honeybush tea, herbal and/or fruit tea blend products have seen the light, many of them consisting of honeybush and rooibos blends. In addition, the subtle differences between the sensory profiles of the herbal teas produced from different
Cyclopia species, could create opportunities for niche markets with specific taste requirements. However, the limited supply of fermented honeybush tea restricts the expansion of product differentiation based on species, and branded products consist predominantly of blends of different honeybush species.
The subtle sweet taste of honeybush tea also provides a good carrier for the combination with other indigenous South African herbal or medicinal plants ('botanicals'), including buchu (Agathosma betulina and
A. crenata) and hoodia (Hoodia gordonii).
Green ('unfermented') honeybush tea, produced at lower volumes, has found niche markets as an alternative tea product and source for the production of phenolic-rich extracts for the functional food, nutraceutical and cosmetic industries.
Overall, honeybush tea is benefiting from global market trends favouring naturally healthy herbal teas. In 2019, the formal honeybush tea industry reached a 20-year milestone and further post-harvest research advances were achieved. The industry is now poised for further growth – locally and globally – depending on a consistent supply of a product of good quality.
A lasting honeybush legacy * What is in a name?
From crop to cup
First records of a local cottage industry
Dr Hannes de Lange: A reflection on the pioneering days
Cyclopia genistoides – a story that originated at the foot of Table Mountain
The advancing role of research in growing the honeybush industry
Research on honeybush cultivation
Research on honeybush tea processing
Local growth and the start of an international footprint * Looking into the future … Dr Hannes de Lange, Pioneer of the formal honeybush industry, December 2020
A vision for the honeybush industry: Joyene Isaacs, chairperson Agricultural Research Council Board | Former HOD Western Cape Department of Agriculture, March 2021
A honeybush timeline: milestones, highlights and interesting snippets
Sources of information
Looking into the future … Dr Hannes de Lange, Pioneer of the formal honeybush industry, December 2020
"In view of the current COVID-19 pandemic, one should not lose
courage – in the past, world trade has faced greater challenges. The
honeybush tea industry must place emphasis on cultivation and must be
less dependent on natural plant populations, except for the few
instances in which sustainable harvesting is possible. Greater emphasis
should be placed on plant breeding and selection. Research on the health
properties of honeybush tea is essential. The quality of the tea must
be at all times non-negotiable."