‘Unique’ bottled rooibos red tea brand grows US sales 330%

By Ben BOUCKLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

The current Rooibee Red Tea range (Picture Credit: Rooibee Red Tea)
The current Rooibee Red Tea range (Picture Credit: Rooibee Red Tea)

Related tags: Organic food, Coffee

The head of Rooibee Red Tea says the US’s first bottled rooibos red tea brand expects a significant sales lift this year after enjoying 330% growth from 2010-2012.

Discussing the sales lift since May 2010, Heather Howell tells BeverageDaily.com that since she joined the firm as ‘CTeaO’ she had been selective in terms of listings for the Kentucky-based brand, which uses leaves from the South African rooibos ‘red bush’ bush.

1500 Rooibee Red stockists nationwide include Kroger, Whole Foods Market and Costco, and the brand produces several thousand cases a year of the caffeine-free organic drink, which uses organic rooibos tea extract (390mg per 355ml) and is being put forward for USDA organic certification.

This is a far cry from 2009, when Louisville, Kentucky farmers markets were the main sales outlet – and Howell says major listings have won the brand extra exposure – in 2011 it won a 1st place award at the North American Tea Championship, and took 2nd place this year for another variety.

Hearing the voice of brand

“One of the things I feel is that being a woman, and running a business, I understand the consumer very well, and understand the voice of this brand”​ Howell says.

“Women primarily make decisions in the grocery store,”​ she adds.“And I’ve been very strategic about where our brand should land and on which shelves.”

For instance, Rooibee Red is stocked in every Whole Foods Markets store in Florida. “Why?”​ Howell asks. “Well health is paramount, people are outside more often, you’ve got the seasonal extension of summer. And we’re in iced tea, although you can heat up our Vanilla Chai flavor.”

She adds: “The other thing is awareness – Northern California is the home of the organic movement, San Francisco… they’re very aware of Rooibos in these areas.”

Howell says that knowing one’s market, having a secure brand identity and knowing how to animate it has been crucial for Rooibee’s success.

Americans increasingly want to be sure that the beverages they drink are healthy, contain antioxidants and have no empty calories for their kids to ingest, she adds.

“A lot of people are familiar with the health benefits of Rooibos, so all we do is make a great-tasting beverage, high antioxidant content, a fun package – that a recipe for success,”​ Howell says.

Avoids ‘bitter, cloying aftertaste’

She claims that Rooibee Red’s strength as a brand is its cross-family appeal through different flavors (pictured) where the US drinks market was classically segments into drinks for moms, dads and kids.

Describing her brand as unique, Howell says the fact Rooibos was a bush and not a tea means the leaves are very low in tannin.

“I’m from Ohio, not the South, so I didn’t grow up drinking tea, I don’t like it very much. But as a bush, Rooibos Red doesn’t have that bitter cloying aftertaste that many teas have, which is why I think so many families like it,”​ Howell adds.

“The challenge I think other people have had is that brewing it, bottling it and steeping it is not easy to do to ensure it tastes really good. But we’ve been able to master that.”

There are no problems sourcing rooibos bush leaves sustainably, Howell insists, since it grows wild as a weed on South Africa’s Western Cape, where Rooibos tea has been drunk medicinally for centuries.

Although Rooibee Red doesn’t make any claims regarding health benefits, Howell says internet searches yield results linking Rooibos tea to improved mood, better digestion, eczema relief, etc.  

“If you Google the health benefits of soda, you’re not going to find so many,”​ she notes wryly.

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